Windows Open, Windows Close: Will New York State Move Away from Punitive Testing to a Performance Task Model? From Rating Teachers to Facilitating Teacher Growth?

New York State has a rare window, for the next four years student scores on standardized tests  cannot be used to assess teacher performance.

Hopefully the window will be used to address the two crucial issues:

* Formative and Summative Teacher Assessment: How do improve and assess teacher performance?

* Student Assessment: How do we use performance tasks to assess student performance instead of the current standardized tests?

The core of teacher preparation programs is the student teaching experience – how effective is the student teaching experience?  How effective are the cooperating teachers in “teaching” classroom skills? We don’t know. We do know that Urban Residency  programs – teachers spend a year in a salaried internship – with a carefully selected mentor teacher while earning a Master’s Degree from a local university are highly effective.  The programs are expensive, usually federally or state-funded with high teacher retention rates.

In-service teachers are observed three, four or five times a year by their supervisor using a rubric – in New York City, the Danielson Frameworks.  One of the questions: Inter-rater reliability – the degree of agreement among raters:  how much homogeneity, or consensus, is there in the ratings given by evaluator?  The answer is, not much. Teachers in high poverty, at-risk schools receive lower rating than teachers in high achieving, high wealth schools.  In New York City superintendents run principal meetings in which the principals, in teams, observe the same classes and discuss how they would rate the lesson; however, these meeting do not cross district lines. Sadly, there is no discussion of the post observation conference – the essence of the process. Ironically Danielson’s other book,  Talk About Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations (2015), is rarely discussed. The teacher observation process, in too many schools, is a compliance problem for principal. The dialogue concerning the day-to-day practice of a teacher is not at the core of the observation process.

Instead of discussing  whether the lesson of an “H” or an “E” (New York State requires a rating of Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective, referred to as HEDI) the discussion should center on the “professional conversations.”

At a recent union meeting a delegate asked whether a principal could order a teacher to give up a preparation, pay the teacher for the lost prep, to observe another teacher.   Mindless.

Facilitated common planning time can lead to intervisitations to a school culture of “talk about teaching.”  “Ordering” teachers to collaborate is insanity.

A note about research: Too much research falls into the advocacy research category – the organization conducting the research does not enter the field with clean hands. Last week, in an essay  in the Brookings Brief, Stuart Butler, an economist with long experience working at the conservative Heritage Foundation lauds two studies, one supporting the “small high schools of choice” (SSC) initiative in New York City and the other a study of 6,000 charter schools. Both studies ignore facts that cast doubt on the validity of the research. While SSC do have higher graduation rates how many kids earned credits by way of highly questionable credit recovery?  What was the impact of teachers marking papers of students they taught?   The charter school research ignores “push out” rates in charter schools, the lower percentages of students with disabilities enrolled as well as the absence of English language learners.

Howard Wainer in Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies (2011) warns us that theory is not evidence – click on the site  – Wainer gives an excellent discussion of the flaws in creating education policy.

We must move from counting the number of observations to creating cultures that “talk about teaching,” and, we have to be wary about advocacy research.

Can we use performance tasks as an alternative to standardized testing?

It may take a while for the dust to settle and a new vision for accountability to emerge, [Columbia professor] Jeff Henig  said; but one blueprint for the future may be the past, specifically, the years just before the passage of the NCLB law, which saw a real range of approaches to accountability.

“Looking back to pre-NCLB, we see what we could anticipate as a likely outcome in the future, which is considerable variation in terms of how [states] use greater authority and discretion. Some states were leaders and innovators, some were laggards,” he said. “They vary in terms of political dynamics, vary in terms of bureaucratic capacity … and in terms of what they value.” 

Top-down solutions to education are commonplace – purchasing some package that is expected to be used in every classroom in the district. After a couple of years the superintendent changes, the costs are too high, the “magic bullet’ becomes a dud.  I have served on many Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams, and, in extremely low functioning schools I invariably walked into a wonderful classroom. Unfortunately the school leadership ignored the excellence of the outlier. In high poverty, low performing school districts there are also outliers, schools that appear to have “figured it out.”  In a low performing school that was being phased out a new principal converted a school from chaos, numerous suspensions every week to order – no suspensions. Since it was a phase-out school the powers that be ignored the success. What was he doing differently? No one seemed interested.

With the passage of the new ESSA law policy devolves to the states, and, we can expect to see a wide variety of approaches.

New Hampshire is the only state with a pilot program approved by the US Ed Department in which performance tasks replace standardized tests to assess student performance.  A caveat: attempts to adopt programs from one state to another frequently stumble.

There’s a lot of potential in the approaches getting a test run in New Hampshire and California, Deborah S. Delisle, the executive director of ASCD, other places need to know that neither state’s approach could be replicated overnight.

“These systems took a significant amount of thinking, analysis, and work at the local level… It is easy to be tempted to adopt another state’s or district’s pilot; however, processes are not necessarily transferable, and they need to be analyzed in terms of the local schools’ needs and goals for their students.”

New Hampshire is in the second year of a pilot program, four school districts in the first year and an additional four this year.  The New Hampshire Department of Education describes the program,

The … system, a pilot currently being implemented in New Hampshire, is designed to foster deeper learning on the part of students than is capable under current systems. A competency-based system relies on a well-articulated set of learning targets that helps connect content standards and critical skills leading to proficiency. Such a system requires carefully following student progress and ensures that students have mastered key content and skills before moving to the next logical set of knowledge and skills along locally-defined learning paths This requires timely assessments linked closely with curriculum and instruction.

… a rich system of local and common (across multiple districts) assessments that support deeper learning, as well as allow students to demonstrate their competency through multiple performance assessment measures in a variety of contexts. Performance assessments are multi-step assignments with clear criteria, expectations and processes which measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills to create or refine an original product and/or solution.

Read a detailed description of the NH DOE program here:

The New Hampshire pilot is rigorous, extremely rigorous, and in the first year the students in the control group, the students who took the Smarter Balance standardized tests did slightly better than the students involved in the pilot.

Windows open windows close, New York State has four years to explore how to move from a teacher assessment compliance model to a teacher competence growth model.

In addition, by aligning a teacher growth model to a performance task model in lieu of a standardized testing model the state has an opportunity to change a culture.

I am not advocating for the New Hampshire plan or any specific plan, under the new federal law all states have an opportunity to create a model at the local level.

For example, New York State  can move away from a “one size fits all” regents diploma model to a true multiple pathways diploma. If a student cannot pass five regents exams, in spite of multiple attempts, in spite of their handicapping condition or language disability, currently, they are a dropout.   We should consider a range of pathways with a type of diploma for each pathway, and, performance tasks in addition to regents exams, requires exploration.

Let’s not shut the window, we have a unique opportunity.

Albany Convenes: What Can We Expect From the State Legislature and the Governor?

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State legislature is in session. Anonymous, 19th century.

The New York State legislature convened this week and the annual gubernatorial State of the State speech is slated for next week. This will be the first year in quite a while without major education battles hanging in the balance. Politics makes for strange bedfellows (and visa versa); last year’s enemies can become this year’s friends. Last year was a bruising year for education, the governor used the budget process to force through the legislature a host of highly controversial laws: yet another dense teacher evaluation law called the “matrix,” increased teacher probation from three to four years and a receivership plan that could result in the 140 lowest achieving schools handed over to a “receiver,” probably a not-for-profit with the power to change/amend collective bargaining agreements

In September the Governor appointed a Task Force to recommend changes in his own plans.

The final report of the Cuomo Commission (Read full report here), which was adopted by the Board of Regents, “froze” the teacher evaluation plans for four years and requires a deep review of the Common Core State Standards. The Governor was backing away from his harsh legislation passed in the spring.

Both sides of the aisle, the Democrats and the Republicans are committed to eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment; the State reduced funding to school districts during the first years after the 2008 near national default, it appears highly likely the “owed” dollars will be fully restored in this year’s budget.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit dollars were also frozen during the fiscal crisis and New York City will fight for the payment of the owed dollars.

The Democrats will fight for the NYS Dream Act which would make, with restrictions, non-documented high school graduates eligible for the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). (Read description of the battle last year here)

Why all pleasantness?  Why are the Republicans, the Democrats and the Governor not sparring?

The answer: this is an election year, not only an election year but a presidential election year, not only a presidential election but an election with a popular Democrat, either Clinton or Sanders, and possibly a controversial Republican at the top of their ticket.

The Republicans are very concerned that a Democratic sweep in New York State will have coattails, will sweep along other Democrats on the ticket.

Over the years the April date for the presidential primary in New York State was not exciting, the winners were already chosen. This year the April 19th New York State primary may be key to either Clinton-Sanders or the leading Republicans. A number of other state elections have been scheduled for April 19th, including the Skelos seat – a heavy Democratic turnout could challenge the leadership of the Senate, currently held by the Republicans by a single seat.

The Democrats in the Assembly will also fill the two vacant seats on the Board of Regents. Merryl Tisch announced she will not be seeking another term (an at-large seat) and Anthony Bottar (Syracuse) apparently also will not be seeking another term. Regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature, with the overwhelming majority in the Assembly the selection is in the hands of the Speaker of the Assembly. Last year two long time incumbents were not re-appointed and the local legislators had significant input into the selection. Eight of the seventeen members of the Board will have been selected in the last two years.

The 2016 session opened January 6th with a welcoming speech by the Speaker who also laid out the broad priorities of the Democratic Conference (Read speech here)

The Assembly will meet two days a week in January and February and move to three days, to four to around the clock as the March 31 budget approaches. May and June will bring three day a week sessions with June 16th set as the end of the session. Tuesday is traditionally lobby day as the hordes descend on the Legislative Office Building to meet with their local electeds (or their staff). If you are going to trek to Albany make sure you have set up an appointment, the earlier in the day the better; members are called into session in the afternoon. You actually have more meaningful meetings in the member’s district office on a Friday.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 bills will be introduced, they all can be tracked on the Assembly website. The vast, vast, vast majority die, either for the lack of a Senate partner bill, or, the leadership chooses not to bring the bill to the floor; fewer than 500 Assembly bills will become law.

You can read a bio of your Assembly member here and read the bills they have introduced by clicking on “legislation” on their web page.

Politics can be frustrating, excuse me, is frustrating. What seems to clear to you might not be so clear to a legislator, who is juggling scores of bills. As you wait in the anteroom to meet with your legislator the group behind you might be waiting to advocate for the position opposite to your position. Are you a contributor?  A modest contribution goes a long way; it’s a sign of support, no matter how modest.

All politics are local.

Both sides of the aisle need a peaceful session, no demonstrations, and no angry constituents; on the other hand the opposition party will try and ratchet up their supporters.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
― Winston S. Churchill

The Next Teacher Preparation Crisis: New York State is Creating a Teacher Shortage (and a Talent Shortage), Another John King Disaster.

JOHN MERROW: Is this a good time to become a teacher? Salaries haven’t kept up with inflation, tenure is under attack, and standardized test scores are being used to fire teachers.

It was commonplace in the days of the old Soviet Union for the bureaucrats to erase from textbooks the names of those who had been purged by the communist leadership. For many in the upper echelons of New York State they wish they could do the same for John King.

Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post quotes King,

“In the first couple of years there will be what I characterize as process wins. You’ll see an evaluation system for teachers and principals, with student achievement built in as a meaningful component.…

As it turns out King’s tenure was a disaster, over 200,000 parents opting out of state tests, the Common Core being re-evaluated and the teacher evaluation process in disarray.

What has not gotten enough ink is the total chaos surrounding the King regulations intended to increase the proficiency of new teachers and the teacher training regulations that drive the over 200 teacher training programs in the state.

Regent Cashin, the co-chair of the Higher Education Committee of the Board of Regents held public hearings in Buffalo, New Paltz and New York City, hundreds of college professors attended and many testified, all sharply criticizing the impact of the King imposed regulations.

We all agree that we should seek the best candidates for the teaching profession, assure that college programs prepare prospective teachers adequately and have some sort of exit exam to assure competency.

In December, 2012 the American Federation of Teachers, the union representing over a million public school teachers issued a report,” Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession,” the report avers,

As in medical, law and other professions, all prospective teachers—whether they come to the profession by the traditional or an alternative route—should meet a universal and rigorous bar that gauges mastery of subject matter knowledge and demonstrates competency in how to teach it. Also, the primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the teaching profession’s standards and ensuring the cohesion of teacher preparation programs must reside with practicing teachers in K-12 and higher education.

And, the report makes three recommendations.

  • All stakeholders must collaborate to ensure that teacher preparation standards, programs and assessments are aligned with a well-grounded vision of effective teaching.
  • Teaching, like other respected professions, must have a universal assessment process for entry that includes rigorous preparation centered on clinical practice as well as theory, an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge, and a comprehensive teacher performance assessment.
  • Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and ensuring the quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with members of the profession—practicing professionals in K-12 and higher education.

Unfortunately in New York State the stakeholders were excluded from the King-driven process. “Practicing professionals” were cast aside as the former commissioner imposed a tangled web of requirements and turned schools of education into test prep mills.

Enrollment in teacher education programs around the state has dropped between 20% and 40%, students choose not to even take the exams and seek employment in non-public schools, charter schools or out of state, larger percentages of Afro-American and students whose native language is not English are failing the exams, and, the best candidates may be opting out of the teaching profession.

King decided to ignore what was going on nationwide.

Over a number of years an organization, the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation, known by the acronym, CAEP, has been working to create a standard for all teacher education programs across the nation. While the accreditation of a program is not mandatory must states “strongly advise” teacher education programs to undergo the rigorous accreditation process.

Required Component.  The provider [the college] sets admissions requirements, including CAEP minimum criteria or the state’s minimum criteria, whichever are higher, and gathers data to monitor applicants and the selected pool of candidates. The provider ensures that the average grade point average of its accepted cohort of candidates meets or exceeds the CAEP minimum of 3.0, and the group average performance on nationally normed ability/achievement assessments such as ACT, SAT, or GRE:

  • is in the top 50 percent from 2016-2017;
  • is in  the top 40 percent of the distribution from 2018-2019; and
  • is in the top 33 percent of the distribution by 2020

Over time, a program may develop a reliable, valid model that uses admissions criteria other than those stated in this standard. In this case, the admitted cohort group mean on these criteria must meet or exceed the standard that has been shown to positively correlate with measures of P-12 student learning and development.

In other words, these are the admission standards; however, we recognize that states may create their own standards that are the equivalent or higher.

John King decided to ignore CAEP and set his own exit standards in addition to the CAEP standards.

New York State requires candidates to take four exit exams:

* edTPA,

A Stanford created exam that “is a student-centered multiple measure assessment of teaching. It is designed to be educative and predicting of effective teaching and student learning.” The student creates a video of a lesson they teach and completes a template assessing the lesson.

* Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST)

80 multiple choice questions based on reading passages and one essay (all computer-based), the questions are divided into subareas: Scientific, Mathematics and Technical Process, Historical and Social Science Awareness, Artistic Expression and the Humanities, Communication and Research Skills  – Click on the link above and try the sample questions.

* Educating All Students Test (EAS)

A computer-based test, 40 multiple choice and three constructed responses (essays). } “The EAS test measures professional and pedagogical knowledge and skills necessary to teach all students effectively in New York State public schools. This test consists of selected-response items (multiple choice) and constructed-response items (essays). Each constructed response item will share scenario-based stimulus material with several selected-response items.”

* Content Specialty Test (CST)

The CST is required in each certification area – a math question on the Grades 1-6 test is below:

  1. A third-grade teacher is preparing to teach the following standard from the New York State P–12 Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics.

 Explain equivalence of fractions in special cases, and compare fractions by reasoning about their size.

Which strategy is likely to be most effective as part of an introductory lesson designed to meet this standard?

  1. teaching that  is equivalent to  by showing how they represent the same point on a number line
  2. teaching that  is equivalent to  because  according to the rules of fractions
  3. teaching that  is equivalent to  because 6 is the least common denominator of 2 and 3
  4. teaching that  is equivalent to  by showing cross multiplication of 1 x 6 = 2 x 

The cost of the four tests is $600 – with additional cost for re-taking failed sections – plus study guides and tutoring sessions the cost can escalate to $1,000.

The core question: are the tests “valid and reliable,” will they produce more effective teachers? The answer is the test makers have no idea. Another core question: in standardizing the test – who was the sample population?  In other words, are the tests biased? Since these are all Pearson tests none of that information is available.

The colleges are forced to decide: do we create entirely new course curricula to embed the test requirements? Do we provide cram courses to prepare students?

At the three forums held by Regent Cashin the college instructors were sharply critical. Students who were excellent in class, excellent in their student teaching, were failing the exams, the entire process was challenging the judgment of the instructors who work with student each and every day. King made it abundantly clear that down the road the state intended to track the effectiveness of teachers based on the teacher evaluation system and attribute the score to the college program, with a threat of negative consequences for the program if students did poorly on the state tests, regardless of the at-risk nature of the students.

A negative incentive to prepare students to teach the neediest populations.

In the first few years of the state-required test students of color are not faring well on the exams. At the same time across the nation there are calls to increase the diversity within the teaching corps.

The New York Times, in an article titled “Where Are the Teachers of Color” writes,

… researchers who have found similar academic effects say more than test scores are at stake. “When minority students see someone at the blackboard that looks like you, it helps you reconceive what’s possible for you,” said Thomas S. Dee, a professor of education at Stanford University.

The New York City Department of Education has set a goal of recruiting 1,000 black males teachers over the next two years, at the same time that the state appears to be reducing the pool.

At the Regents Meeting next week I expect that Regent Cashin and the other members of the Higher Education Committee will be putting forth a number of proposals to bring sanity to the mess created by King.

If the Common Core had been phased in, perhaps beginning with the early childhood grades, moving up one grade each year, if the state and local school districts had initiated  professional development programs to bring teachers up to speed, if the exams had flexible cut scores the current school wars would never have occurred.

If the state had begun to revise teacher education requirements by including the professionals, as recommended by the American Federation of Teacher report,

  • Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and ensuring the quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with members of the profession—practicing professionals in K-12 and higher education,

we would not find ourselves in the current abyss.

In the literature regarding organizational change the first principle is “Participation Reduces Resistance,” a lesson clearly not learned in the King led Department of Education.

I am optimistic that the new commissioner and newly revitalized Board of Regents can return the teacher preparation landscape to sanity.

“Everybody Hates Chris:” School Integration Must Not Replace Addressing Poverty/Crime/Education in a Coordinated Initiative

“Everyone Hates Chris” was a highly acclaimed program, Chris Rock narrated his trials and tribulations as one of the few black students in a  middle school (”   … a prime example of how to take serious issues and approach them in a humorous yet thought-provoking way. The series is innovative, funny, and stereotype-defying — enjoyable for teens and their parents.”).

During the period referenced in the program I was the union rep in school district, and, I’m very familiar with his school. The school neighborhood was Italian-Irish single family houses and the school had a sprinkling of black students who traveled across the borough. I remember a day I was visiting the school, as I was talking with a teacher at the classroom door an Afro-American kid came running by the classroom followed by a rather large adult screaming “Come back here you f___ n ___.”

The teacher, apologetically, “He’s the dean, he gets excited.”

I skulked away hoping I wouldn’t have to defend his actions.

Don’t think Chris Rock enjoyed his middle school years.

It’s easy to integrate schools by the numbers, it’s difficult to create welcoming, integrative school cultures.

The May, 2014 UCLA Civil Rights Project report, Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future, made headlines across nation. One of the conclusions,

Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students

The report especially resonated in New York City, led by a mayor and a city council that is among the most progressive in the nation: how could a liberal city, with a mayor who ran on a platform of equality accept a segregated school system? In his inaugural address Mayor de Blasio emphasized the inequality theme,

… the state of our city, as we find it today, is a Tale of Two Cities – with an inequality gap that fundamentally threatens our future.

The facts are far more complicated. From 2010 to 2014 the population of New York City has grown by 3.9% (4.7% in Brooklyn – See detailed NYC population data here). The increase is due to increases in births over deaths – New Yorkers are living longer and having more kids, international migration – we’re a worldwide destination city as well as immigration from across the country, although the out migration is almost as high.  The city is booming – demand for housing has sharply increased costs, gentrification is a citywide phenomenon as formerly undesirable neighborhoods become “hot” the poor are forced into fewer and fewer areas of the city. Demand for affordable housing increases, developers build expensive market rate housing.

The White Flight to the suburbs in the 50’s through 80’s has become a White Flight into the city in the 00’s.

The city is 44% white – the school system is 15% white and white students are concentrated in Staten Island and a few other neighborhoods. The racial differences in elementary schools a few blocks apart may be stark, one almost all white, the other all of color.

At the high school level the landscape is more complex; the specialized and small “boutique” screened high schools are segregated, Stuyvesant High School has 20 black students in a register of 3326 (0.6%), Bronx High School of Science has 66 black students, the register is 3006 and Eleanor Roosevelt, a highly desirable screened school has 22 black students in a school of 554.

On the other hand two of the most soughtafter large high schools (each school has over 3,000 students) in Brooklyn, Madison and Midwood, have diverse populations.


    HISPANIC 572 17.6%
    ASIAN 642 19.75%
    BLACK 572 17.6%
    WHITE 1,429 43.97%


    HISPANIC 490 12.34%
    ASIAN 1,379 34.72%
    BLACK 1,156 29.1%
    WHITE 888 22.36%

Screened and testing for admission high schools are overwhelmingly white and Asian, large traditional high schools located in middle class neighborhoods reflect the ethnicity of the city.

At the elementary school level schools are far more segregated, Chancellor Farina’s former school, PS 6, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is an example,


    HISPANIC 50 7.14%
    ASIAN 88 12.57%
    BLACK 15 2.14%
    WHITE 525 75%

There are many examples of elementary schools that abut minority neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly white.

Two members of the City Council, Brad Lander and Richie Torres, referencing the UCLA Report, bemoaned the segregated nature of NYC schools,

 More than half of New York City’s public schools are over 90 percent black and Latino. Meanwhile, many of the best-regarded public elementary schools are getting whiter

Lander and Torres  passed legislation  that requires the city to release detailed data that  ” … will include extensive school-by-school data, down to the grade level (and within specialized programs like gifted and talented programs), as well as the Department’s specific efforts and initiatives to strengthen diversity” and an additional bill that “calls on the NYC DOE to establish diversity as a priority in admissions, zoning and other decision-making processes.”

Lander/Torres advocate for the Department of Education to adopt district-wide “controlled choice” enrollment practices.  A lengthy paper  describes the principles of controlled choice,

The comprehensive citywide or zonewide educational offerings of Controlled Choice sever the hostage relationship between real estate market forces and personal educational opportunities. With Controlled Choice, an individual’s schooling opportunities are no longer constrained or facilitated by one’s capacity to rent or purchase housing near to or distant from a preferred school. Controlled Choice operates on the premise that schools are public and should be available to everyone, while housing is private and its use is, therefore, limited to an individual or a family of individuals. Thus, the Controlled Choice method assumes that schooling opportunities should not be dependent upon one’s financial capacity to rent or purchase various housing accommodations. Indeed, Controlled Choice prevents these experiences from being linked by ensuring that all schools are available to all students. Controlled Choice provides comprehensive educational opportunities to population groups by insisting that groups with which individuals chose to identify and that are recognized by the school system should receive proportional access to all public educational opportunities provided. If school assignments were made in a random way, this would occur automatically. Since individuals are granted the freedom of choosing schools, this individual freedom must be constrained by reserving seats for groups. This method is fair to individuals and to groups. Moreover, by reserving a proportion of school seats for members of various population groups, Controlled Choice ensures the presence of a critical mass of students unlike the prevailing group and thereby guarantees diversity in all schools.

Families list schools in the catchment area in preferential order and a computer algorithm assigns students utilizing the preferential choices as well as diversity data. The controlled choice concept has been used in a number of cities including Boston.

The Department has granted permission for seven schools, all in gentrifying neighborhoods to reserve seats in the incoming 2016 kindergarten class for “disadvantaged” students, aka students of color.

The move to “Controlled Choice” (which will probably be branded with a different name) will be difficult, and, perhaps flammable. In a decision about where to live a major consideration is the quality of the neighborhood school; in a controlled choice environment there is no neighborhood school.

Even if the city adopted a controlled choice plan only hundreds of students would be impacted. An enormous battle to create integrated schools, a virtuous goal; however, integrated schools do not guarantee academic success. Chris Rock’s parents placed him in an academically successful school and the experience was far from positive. Sadly, the white students  may gain more than the students of color traveling from a distance into a foreign neighborhood.

A hundred schools are either renewal or receivership schools or both – the lowest achieving schools in the city. For the most part the schools are located in the poorest zip codes in the city (See Concentrated Poverty by District report here) and in districts with the highest juvenile justice crime numbers (See Citizens Crime Commission report, Sustaining Crime Reductions in NYC: Priorities for Preventing Youth Crime here).  Living in deep poverty, living in violent, crime-ridden neighborhoods impact performance in schools; the evidence is overwhelming. (See report: Understanding the impact of trauma and urban poverty on family systems: Risks, resilience and interventions here)

School leaders and teachers, no matter their caring and skills, cannot overcome the external burdens alone. What is the city, what is the City Council doing to address the external factors that impact school performance?

The website Chalkbeat lists the school integration controversy as one of the six most important stories of the year, an interesting story, not a “most important” story. The most important story is why the city is not concentrating all city services on the hundreds of schools and thousands of students suffering in the most eroded neighborhoods

The Talented Tenth, WEB Du Bois and the Future of Schools in New York City

“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 Talented Tenth: WEB Du Bois  (1903) Read the full essay here.

WEB  Du Bois, the Massachusetts born sociologist, historian, civil rights activist and Pan-Africanist criticized Booker T. Washington in an essay, “The Talented Tenth.” Du Bois saw “exceptional black men” as the savior of “the Negro race.”

In a bizarre way educational policy-makers have been following the Du Bois “Talented Tenth” path for over a century, especially in the post-World War II years.

The New York City fathers, the Board of Education and the Department of Education have supported a triage system. The “dirty little secret” is that the path to creating “good” schools is to attract the most talented student body. Adelaide Sanford, the principal of PS 21 in District 16 (Bedford-Stuyvesant) was praised for creating a high achieving school in the midst of struggling schools; the school attracted the best students within the surrounding school district. The concept of magnet or gifted schools moved across the city – Mark Twain Middle School on District 21 (Coney Island) attracted the “gifted and talented” from a swath of Brooklyn.  The Astor Program, a highly regarded gifted education program that required an IQ-type test for admission, attracted the most able students, and deprived neighborhood schools of these students. One might argue that for the truly gifted, students who achieve more than two standard deviations above the mean, specialized education is required; however, the so-called gifted and talent or magnet or screened schools have become havens for the children of white and wealthier families.

The Success Academy charter school network has followed the same path. Recruit parents with social capital, discourage students with disabilities and English language learners and pare away “difficult” students. The press has closely followed the “Got to Go” lists maintained by Success Academy schools. As students are “pared away,” convinced to leave, the Success Academy fails to backfill, to fill the empty seats. Whether the rigid, highly-structured curriculum and the strict discipline will produce “college ready” students is still questionable.

Charter schools, magnet schools, gifted schools, screened programs all vie for the new “talented tenth,” the students who appear most able and most likely to succeed in school.

Prior to No Child Left Behind (2002) gifted or magnet schools generally had little impact on neighborhood schools. The movement to “accountability,” aka test and punish, both accelerated the move to screened schools and divided schools into the “haves” and the “have nots.”

The Bloomberg administration greatly expanded the number of screened schools. Today there are over 100 screened schools and 100 educational option programs, screened programs within existing schools.

A few of the screened school offer enriched programs far beyond what neighborhoods schools could provide, most, however, are havens for the children of the predominantly white middle class.

The “dirty little secret,” the secret that is not taught in schools of education: attracting the most able students guarantees a successful school. If the state produced a chart listing teacher HEDI test scores by school district wealth deciles we would find the wealthier the district the more highly rated the teachers. Do the most able teachers migrate to wealthier districts? Or, is the teacher rating algorism skewed to reward the teachers of most able students? Scooping up the most able students removes schools from the world of “test and punish.”  The Opt Out parent anger emanates from the movement to Common Core tests – for years your kids did well on state tests, on Regents exams, on the SAT and got into good colleges, suddenly, schools moved from 2/3 passing the state exams to 2/3 failing the state exams. Teachers, due to the ability of students, were effectively exempt from “test and punish” were now pushed into the new world: test-driven accountability.

Alongside the opt outs, the issue of school diversity, formerly known as integration, has arisen anew. (See Chalkbeat discussion here).

The UCLA Study, “Brown at 60” findings conclude,

Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students.

Only 15.73% of New York City students are white and the white students are heavily concentrated in Staten Island and a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Cries for a “controlled choice” plan (more in a future blog) as a path to integration and better schools is a canard.


    HISPANIC 425,819 40.75%
    ASIAN 169,090 16.18%
    BLACK 256,549 24.55%
    WHITE 164,372 15.73%
    MULTI-RACIAL 10,204 0.98%

The vast percentages of students are children of color in segregated schools bereft of the highest achieving students who are channeled to gift/magnet/screened schools.

What happens to the euphemistically called “untalented ninety”?

For the feds the answer is “test and punish,” identify the lowest performing schools measured by state tests, a timetable for improvement, with school closing in the wings. The lowest performing are defined as in the lowest 25% in state test scores. (See school list here) For the governor, receivership (See list of receivership schools here), turn schools over to not-for-profits to run within an existing school district.

For Du Bois the answer was to develop the “talented tenth,” the most able so that in “…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.”  Unfortunately the creation of large numbers of screened schools will provide an opportunity for the most able across races, there is no path for the “untalented ninety.”

Although on paper the administration has restored superintendents we still have a rigid top-down system that has never worked. While the Chancellor’s District did appear to work for a number of years the Chancellor at that time, Rudy Crew, in a recent speech does not recommend returning to the past.

The highly controversial Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Project (Read critiques here  and here) has returned under Chancellor Farina as well as Lucy West, whose is the mathematics side of the Farina approach. Millions of dollars have been funneled into programs that many feel are  ineffective.

Schools appear to be adrift.

The targets for renewal schools are far less than aggressive – see example here.

Although high school graduation rates are increasing college readiness metrics are declining, The NY Times  writes,

…  the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy.

Are the leaders of school districts “dumbing down” standards to increase graduation rates? Setting minimal goals for struggling schools?

Occasionally we find a school with an extraordinary school leader and teachers who usually operate on the edges, out of step with the powers that be. There are too few, and, the system drives away too many of the most dedicated and most effective.

Sadly, we appear to be sacrificing the “ninety” percent.

Freedom of Speech Outside of the Classroom: “Protected” versus “Unprotected” Speech: When is Teacher Speech “Job-Related” or “Citizen Speech?

At a social function I was introduced to a parent active in the Opt Out movement; she was complaining about the teachers in her school, “I know they think the state tests are garbage. Why don’t they speak out? Why won’t they stand up at a PTA or a school board meeting and urge parents to opt out? They’re protected; they have freedom of speech just like everyone else?”

The first amendment does not grant unlimited freedom of speech, the amendment prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech.”

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In September of 1787, in the final days of the Constitutional Convention, a motion was made to include a bill of rights into the text of the constitution – it failed to receive support from any state. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton the co-conspirators who engineered the Constitutional Convention opposed including a bill of rights. In the Federalist Papers # 84 Hamilton explains why there is no need for a bill of rights.

The most considerable of the remaining objections is that the plan of the convention contains no bill of rights. Among other answers given to this, it has been upon different occasions remarked that the constitutions of several of the States are in a similar predicament. I add that New York is of the number. And yet the opposers of the new system, in this State, who profess an unlimited admiration for its constitution, are among the most intemperate partisans of a bill of rights. To justify their zeal in this matter, they allege two things: one is that, though the constitution of New York has no bill of rights prefixed to it, yet it contains, in the body of it, various provisions in favor of particular privileges and rights, which, in substance amount to the same thing; the other is, that the Constitution adopts, in their full extent, the common and statute law of Great Britain, by which many other rights, not expressed in it, are equally secured.

Madison and Hamilton believed that by specifically listing items in a bill of rights you were excluding others therefore limiting the rights of the people.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, written more than a decade earlier included a long accounting of rights, the Declaration included freedom of the press,

That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments

As well as freedom of religion,

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

And did not address freedom of speech.

Three years after the Constitutional Convention the Congress agreed to include a Bill of Rights

The issue of the actual meaning of the first amendment freedom of speech went unaddressed by the Court until the First World War and “Sedition” legislation.

In 1917 the Court unanimously ruled that a law which prohibited the distribution of flyers criticizing the draft was not unconstitutional.

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

Fifty years later the Court changed the standard from “clear and present danger” to “imminent lawless action.”

… the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

The First Amendment begins with the phrase “Congress shall make no law …;” how does the First Amendment protect individual citizens? And, for our purpose;

Does the First Amendment protect teachers from disciplinary action for comments made in the classroom?  for comments made at in-school meetings? for comments made at school board meetings? at public forums? for articles or blogs criticizing the employer?

The courts divide teacher speech in two categories, “protected” and “unprotected” speech.

There was considerable case law re teacher freedom of speech outside the classroom. In landmark decision Pickering v Board of Education(1968) the US Supreme Court wrote,

Free and open debate is vital to informed decision-making by the electorate. Teachers are, as a class, the members of a community most likely to have informed and definite opinions … operation of schools …. absent proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by him, a teacher’s exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment …. It is possible to conceive of some positions in public employment in which the need for confidentiality is so great that even completely correct public statements might furnish a permissible ground for dismissal.

The Pickering decision informed state courts,

In a NYS Court of Appeals decision (Puentes v Board of Education of Bethpage (1969)) the Court held “indiscreet bombast in an argumentative letter … without damage to the operation of the school system and without proof of reckless or intentional error was not sufficient to sanction disciplinary action …”

Courts, however, slowly began chipping away at Pickering,

In Givhan v Western Lane Consolidated School District (1979), Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Court avers that the interests of a teacher as a citizen in commenting on matters of public concern “must be balanced against the interests of the state, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency” of public schools. A teacher’s speech may not be protected when it specifically impedes “the proper performance of his classroom duties or generally interferes with the regular operation of schools.”

The United States Supreme Court further limited speech, and ruled that when public employees speak while performing their official duties, (i.e., “job duty speech”); this speech is not protected by the First Amendment and can be the basis for discipline or discharge.

In 2006 in Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court clarifies and limits the issue of protected speech. The plaintiff in the case was a district attorney who claimed that he had been passed up for a promotion for criticizing the actions of his office The Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that because his statements were made pursuant to his position as a public employee, rather than as a private citizen, his speech had no First Amendment protection.

Commenting on the decision, a legal memo distinguishes between a government employee as citizen and as an employee,

 … a government entity has broader discretion to restrict speech when it acts in its employer role, but the restrictions it imposes must be directed at speech that has some potential to affect its operations. On the other hand, a citizen who works for the government is nonetheless still a citizen. The First Amendment limits a public employer’s ability to leverage the employment relationship to restrict, incidentally or intentionally, the liberties employees enjoy in their capacities as private citizens …. So long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively.

Justice Kennedywriting for the majority concludes his opinion,

    We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties. Our precedents do not support the existence of a constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.

The impact of the Kennedy decision has had a chilling impact.

Debbie Almontasser, the principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a public school in New York City was forced to resign her position as a result of comments she made during an interview by a local newspaper in an interview sanctioned by the employer. The court, citing Ceballos, rejected her appeal.

In a January, 2010, in a Federal Appellate decision (Weintraub v The Board of Education of the City of New York) the court examined a claim by a New York City teacher. The teacher was discharged as a probationary teacher for a range of alleged infractions. The teacher claimed that his dismissal was the result of the filing of a grievance complaining about the failure to suspend a student who threw books.

The panel majority held that plaintiff, “by filing a grievance with his union to complain about his supervisor’s failure to discipline a child in his classroom, was speaking pursuant to his official duties and thus not as a citizen. Accordingly, [plaintiff’s] speech was not protected by the First Amendment.”

The teacher was not fired for the filing of a grievance; however, his claim that the filing of a grievance is “protected” speech was rejected by the court.

In a Federal District of Connecticut case (Jeffrey Spanierman v Hughes, et. al.,), the court fine tunes Garcetti, supporting a teacher’s claim that comments placed on is protected speech, although not overturning the failure to renew the teacher’s employment contract, and criticizing the nature of the Internet posting comments.

The Court asks “whether the Plaintiff expressed his views as a citizen or as a public employee pursuant to his official duties …” and uses Garcetti as guidance.

… when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizen for First Amendment purposes, the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline … Employees who make public statements outside of the course of performing their official duties retain some possibility of First Amendment protection because that is the kind of activity engaged in by citizens who do not work for the government … When a public employee speaks pursuant to employment responsibilities, however, there is no relevant analogue to speech by citizens who are not government employees …

The court reviewed the nature of the Myspace comments by the teacher and finds “…examples of the online exchanges the Plaintiff had with students, and the court can see how a school’s administration would disapprove of, and find disruptive, a teacher’s discussion with a student … (after a careful analysis of the Myspace student-teacher exchanges) Such conduct could very well disrupt the learning atmosphere of a school, which sufficiently outweighs the value of Plaintiff’s Myspace speech.”

From Pickering to Garcetti the Court has moved the line that differentiates “protected” from “unprotected” speech.

To the best of my knowledge no teacher has been disciplined for comments made re whether parents should opt out; however, I would strongly advise teachers speak with the union before putting their job in jeopardy.

About Face: New York State Reverses Test and Punish and Hopes Parents and Teachers Will Be Assuaged

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins,  all of them imaginary.

HL Mencken

Remember when you were driving down that road, lost, you kept on driving down the road hoping you would become “unlost”?

Five years ago the education community began driving down the teacher evaluation road, losing their way, and driving further and further down the road. Finally, deep in the woods, with the wolves howling, they decided to turn around.

How did the education seers get so lost?

The New Teacher Project in 2010 published a report, The Widget Effect, which resonated across the reform-y community.

Effective teachers are the key to student success, yet our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives

* Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, making it impossible to identify truly exceptional teachers

* Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years.

Value-add measures (VAM), growth models, psychometricians, statisticians and the data-wonks believed that teaching could be reduced to a numerical score. Teachers across an entire state regardless of the ability of the students were plugged into a dense algorithm, the teacher eval guys and gals sped along not realizing how lost they had become.

At the May, 2015 Learning Summit on Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) (Watch video of the presentation here) held  by the Board of Regents a panel consisting of scholars debated the use of value-added measurement (VAM). The scholars criticized VAM; among a number of criticisms, the most serious, the errors of measurement were too large, the results were neither valid nor reliable.

The Opt Out parents continued skewering the governor and the legislature, the teacher union pounded away, an angry cohort of parents, not tied to a party, the reformers were driving deeper and deeper into the woods.

The governor had a subitism  (Love the word: see definition here)

In the world of politics deniability, is important: claiming credit for successes and blaming others for your failures. The governor appointed a task force to craft a path to get back on the road, without admitting any culpability,  for the years of barreling down the wrong road.

The task force members had a deadline, to complete their work before the December meeting of the Board of Regents, the last date to adopt a new path before the legislature convenes in January.

The governor, the assembly, the senate, state education and the task force members engaged in increasingly intense negotiations. With a ticking clock the task force released its finding  last Thursday afternoon.

Read the Report here  and read my blog about the report here .

On Monday the members of the Board of Regents convened to discuss and vote on elements of the Report…

What did the Report do?

* created a moratorium, oh, sorry, I can’t use that word, a transition to the new, yet to be crafted teacher evaluation plan to impact in the 2019 – 2020 school year. You may have noticed that the transition, or, what the hell, the moratorium, runs through the next gubernatorial election cycle.

* a re-writing, a through editing, another draft, of the Common Core State Standards.

* an admission that the SED Curriculum Modules were being used as scripts; curriculum should be a local responsibility, not imposed from Albany.

* teachers really are smart and highly capable; state ed will create a teacher portal so that teachers can post curriculum and other education tools on the Engage NY site.

* teachers will be actively engaged in test creation, a review of the standards and new test creation.

and, of course, create an interim teacher evaluation schema for the transition years; let’s call it teacher evaluation 5.0

See the power point, entitled,  Alternate Scores for Teachers and Principals: Implementing a Transition to Higher Standards:

and view the power point on the results of the teacher evaluation process over the last three years:

Under the law school districts and teacher unions have until March 15 to negotiate new teacher evaluation plans based on the task force changes adopted by the regents.

The hope from the governor and the legislature is that the de-escalation, the moratorium, provides a cooling off period. Without the stress of high stakes testing and a rating sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of teachers and principals we can get back to the job at hand: teaching.

If we’re not using the state grades 3 – 8 test scores how will student growth be measured? Remember student learning objectives (SLOs) and Measures of Student Learning (MOSLs)?

The governor and the legislature believe the anger will abate, other issues will arise, and the pols have learned a lesson: don’t intervene in education, allow the regents to make policy – claim credit for victories and blame the regents for the failures.

A  video of an explanation that is as clear as the new teacher evaluation law.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

Groucho Marx