Do Suspensions Work? A Tool to Improve Student Behaviors and/or a Pipeline to Prison?

Once a month a thousand or so teacher unionists file into Shanker Hall at the United Federation of Teachers for the monthly Delegate Assembly, the elected delegates are incredibly diverse, by gender, race and ethnicity. After the president’s report the meeting moves to a question period, one delegate asked, “My principal asked me to raise an issue, a student came to school with a knife, the Department of Education would only allow a short in-school suspension because the knife was only 4” long, shouldn’t we be able to impose a longer out of school suspension? The kid has to learn a lesson?” The union president agreed, the Discipline Code , the size of a phone book, might be overly restrictive, and then asked, “Shouldn’t the question be why he brought the knife to school?”

On one side: “School is a pipeline to prison, suspensions are racist and must be eliminated,” on the other, “There must be consequences for inappropriate behavior and suspensions must be one of the options.”

The suspension question is complicated, and, the “sides” are deeply entrenched.

There are 14,000 school districts, fifty states and thousands of charter schools, all of whom have a discipline code, plus, the Department of Education (USDE).

Some school districts employ “exclusionary suspensions,” meaning out-of-school suspensions while others, including New York City, only have in-school suspensions.

Some districts employ “zero tolerance” policies, suspensions for low level behavioral infringements while others, including New York City, require a ladder of discipline culminating in a suspension and at the long-term level requiring a hearing with legal representation available.

The evidence that suspensions improve behavior is absent; the evidence that suspensions have negative outcomes is overwhelming.

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA has published reports with significant evidence challenging the efficacy of out of school suspensions, aka, exclusionary suspensions.

Especially relevant is “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?”

In January 2014 the Obama/Duncan Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, a method of avoiding the lengthy process to change regulations, warning and threatening school districts with legal actions,

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (Departments) are issuing this guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. 

 … statistical evidence may indicate that groups of students have been subjected to different treatment or that a school policy or practice may have an adverse discriminatory impact. Indeed, the Departments’ investigations, which consider quantitative data as part of a wide array of evidence, have revealed racial discrimination in the administration of student discipline. For example, in our investigations we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students. In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.

 This line of reasoning is called “disparate impact theory,” and has been primarily used in employment discrimination; Griggs v Duke Power Company (1970) is a unanimous Supreme Court decision barring the use of restrictive employment barriers.

One could argue that the Obama administration overextended its authority; suspensions are a state issue and fall beyond the authority of the federal government; however, I’m not arguing the role of the federal government; the data is overwhelming, students of color are suspended at rates far beyond other students, and, the consequences of suspensions are dire.

The Trump-deVos administration has withdrawn the Obama-Duncan “Dear Colleague” letter.

There is no evidence that suspensions work, that students who are suspended do not commit further “suspendable” offenses, or, that classrooms are more orderly after students are suspended.

Districts have moved to restorative justice  and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports strategies, (PBIS ) with mixed results .. In a major study in the Pittsburgh schools the results were both encouraging and depressing. In elementary suspensions decreased however the results in middle schools were disturbing.

 The policies appear especially unhelpful in middle school grades, where they didn’t reduce suspension rates but did hurt test scores. The shift did not boost student learning on the whole, and black students in particular actually saw significant reductions in test scores.

 In my own totally unscientific discussions with teachers the major complaint was time. Who is going to teach my class while I counsel the offending students, another, “They want to turn us into guidance counselors.”

System-wide professional development may, or, may not impact rates of suspension and academic outcomes; however, are there differences in comparable schools, schools with similar populations in similar neighborhoods, and if so, why?  Can it be the race of the teacher or school leader? A North Carolina study explored the race of the teacher,

Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?

 In this study …we find consistent evidence that North Carolina students are less likely to be removed from school as punishment when they and their teachers are the same race. This effect is driven almost entirely by black students, especially black boys, who are markedly less likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline when taught by black teachers. There is little evidence of any benefit for white students of being matched with white teachers.

 Other studies support the North Carolina study,

… we provide a theoretical model that formalizes the notion of “role model effects” as distinct from teacher effectiveness. We envision role model effects as information provision: black teachers provide a crucial signal that leads black students to update their beliefs about the returns to effort and what educational outcomes are possible. Using testable implications generated by the theory, we provide suggestive evidence that role model effects help to explain why black teachers increase the educational attainment of black students.

 While studies are interesting none are dispositive.

Mike Petrilli in an excellent article entitled, “Humility When It Comes to Evidence-Based Practice” emphasizes “teacher buy-in and implementation.”

… the contexts of our schools… vary dramatically making the use of evidence an inherently complex and fraught challenge. Plus, in a field where implementation is everything, the only way “doing what works” can be effective is with teacher buy-in and engagement. They call it “winning hearts and minds” for a reason; we can’t expect that evidence alone will win the day.

“Comparable schools” schools with low suspension rates, in my experience, are schools that have strong cultures and are highly collaborative: a strong school leader with distributive teacher leadership.

Bottom lines:

  • Exclusionary (out-of-school) suspensions and zero tolerance practices have the odor of blatant racism and must be rejected.
  • All suspensions must be in-school or in an educational setting coupled with intensive counseling and educational supports
  • Restorative justice and other alternative strategies can be useful if there is teacher buy-in and engagement
  • Hiring more male school leaders and teachers of color are essential.
  • There are student behaviors that require the removal from a classroom setting, we cannot totally reject suspensions.

If we want students to change behaviors we must explore our own behaviors. New York State has released Cultural Responseness and Sustainability Frameworks for public comment.

Will these Frameworks change your relationships with students? At least, make you explore your view of classroom practices?

Report from the NYS Board of Regents Meeting (1/14-15/2019) [High School Grads as Substitutes and Punishing OptOut Schools]

I have been attending the monthly NYS Board of Regents meetings for a decade, and, I tweet as fast as my fingers can tap @edintheapple.

The meetings begin in the ornate Regents Room, the walls lined with portraits of former chancellors, with one exception (Merryl Tisch), white men, mostly with facial hair. The Board of Regents has a long history, back into the late eighteenth century. Under current law the Board is made up of seventeen members, one from each of the thirteen judicial districts and four at-large. The Regents are “elected” by combined meeting of the legislature, effectively, by the democratic majority of the Assembly. The Regents serve a five year term and the position is unsalaried.

The initial meeting is live streamed and archived (Watch 1/14/19 meeting here), the committee meetings follow throughout the day. The meetings are a full day Monday and a half day Tuesday. The committee meetings are not live streamed.

The meeting always begins with the chancellor asking a board member to offer comments, a “moment of reflection,” the audience stands, I suspect in the distant past it was a prayer: quant.

The audience, state education department staff, lobbyists, representatives of education organizations (unions, school boards, etc.), and me. There is no opportunity for public comment, although during the breaks between meetings board members and audience members chat.

The meeting began with a presentation on a major new state initiative, this month, culturally relevant education, rebranded as Cultural Responsiveness and Sustainability Frameworks, see the PowerPoint here. David Kirkland, the director of the New York University Metro Center is the lead author, David and a number of superintendents and other organization leads spoke and supported the Frameworks. As is the practice the Frameworks go to public comments and back to the board for adoption.

Another resolution was added to the agenda in response to the DeVos withdrawal of the Obama letter on student discipline and suspensions. The resolution was read to the room, a strongly worded rebuke to the DeVos policy. (Read the full resolution here)

…be it hereby resolved that the Board of Regents reaffirms its commitment to continuing its efforts to ensure that all students have equitable access to learning opportunities in safe and supportive school environments free from discrimination, harassment and bias, including reducing dependence on exclusionary school discipline and increasing equity in education for all students.

 The board moved to the committee meetings, the first was K-12, among the items on the agenda was a change in the regulations dealing with the qualifications for substitute teachers. There are a small number of districts that can’t find substitutes for absent teachers, we’re talking about districts with 3-5 schools. The controversial section is below: yes, the commissioner is proposing that the requirement be reduced to a high school diploma.

To address the Board’s concerns, the Department is proposing to require uncertified substitute teachers to hold at least an associate’s degree or its equivalent to ensure that they have a minimum educational background. However, if no eligible substitute teacher with an associate’s degree or higher, or its equivalent, is available after a good faith recruitment effort has been conducted, the school district may request from the district superintendent (for districts that are a component district of a BOCES and BOCES) or the superintendent (for school districts that are not a component district of a BOCES) a waiver allowing them to employ an individual with a high school diploma, or its equivalent.

 The members were outraged and member after member rejected the proposal, after attempts to wordsmith the regulation it was removed from the agenda. I wanted to raise my hand and make other suggestions: a district substitute teacher reserve, meaning hiring an additional teacher, or two, or whatever is necessary, on a permanent basis to serve as a sub, or, use district office staff on a rotating basis, or, perhaps, try paying daily substitutes more money.

Next, an issue that has been bubbling for a week boiled over; the state will be releasing school accountability data in a few days; and, NYS has, by far, the largest OptOut numbers among all states, about 20% and over 50% on Long Island. (BTW, a very small number in NYC concentrated in a few high achieving schools).

SED provided districts with a 62-slide PowerPoint used to identify “failing” schools and a dense alghorhym. Regent Johnson, a former superintendent, attended the meeting in her judicial district and was outraged, she asked,

 “Will OptOut schools be punished?  Will  schools be designated as failing schools due to OptOuts?”‘

She demanded of the commissioner, “Yes or No?” The commissioner sidestepped.

The board was not happy.

If you want to get into the weeds, read a detailed explanation of the accountability metrics here,

The bottom line: OptOuts within subgroups resulted in lowering the achievement metrics pushing schools into the “failing school” (targeted or comprehensive school improvement) categories. The alghorhym used by the state to determine schools has been/ discredited by Bruce Baker, a frequent writer on education finance issues

On Tuesday morning I attended the Assembly Education Committee meeting under the new chair, Michael Benedetto, a retired career teacher. The first order of business of the legislative session was to pass, unanimously, all democrats and republicans supported, the teacher evaluation bill that returns the question of teacher evaluation to school districts. Read full test of the bill and accompanying memo here. The bill will move to the full Assembly and I expect similar speedy actions in the Senate.

Legislators are more than happy to return the thorny question of teacher evaluation to local districts, and, will be perturbed by the commissioner’s decision to “punish” OptOut schools when they were assured that opting out would have no negative consequences for schools.

When hordes of phone calls begin pouring in to legislator offices legislators will seek answers and this issue can become increasingly troublesome for the commissioner.

Hope this has been helpful. All questions and/or comments, of course, welcome.

Upcoming Legislative Session: Will the Legislature/Governor Agree to a Moratorium on the Creation of New Charter Schools?

In December, 1998 Governor Pataki called the legislature back into session, sessions after Election Day are called “lame duck” sessions, legislators who were defeated or chose not to run participate in the sessions. After lots of behind the scenes wrangling the legislature passed two items: a raise for themselves and Governor Pataki’s charter school bill.

In the intervening twenty years the charter school law has been amended a number of times, raising the cap on the number of schools and a few other changes enhancing the rights of charters.

Read the charter school law here (click on “laws,” scroll down to EDU and click, scroll down to CHARTER SCHOOLS)

Charter schools in New York State are “authorized” by two organizations, the Charter School Institute, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) and the New York State Education Department Charter School Office.

The authorizers have different standards for approving charters; the Charter School Institute is the easier route; a recent applicant was turned down a number of times by the Charter School Office, applied to the Charter School Institute and was approved. A decade ago Merryl Tisch was the chancellor of the Board of Regents, she advocated, without success, for legislation that would place all charters under the Board of Regents; will the idea be back on the table?

The law sets caps on the number of charters, one for New York City and one for the remainder of the state, the New York City cap has only seven slots remaining.

The purpose of the creation of charter schools is made clear in the opening sections of the law,

2.  The purpose of this article is to authorize a system of charter  schools to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, and community  members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently of  existing schools and school districts in order to accomplish the  following objectives:   

(a) Improve student learning and achievement;   

(b)  Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special  emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk  of academic failure;   

(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;   

(d)   Create new professional opportunities for teachers, school administrators and other school personnel;   

(e) Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of  educational opportunities that are available within the public school  system; and   

(f)  Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to  performance-based accountability systems by holding the schools  established under this article accountable for meeting measurable  student achievement results. 

The reality is the instructional program in charter schools is no different than the instructional program in traditional public schools, if you visited a public and a charter school the classrooms would be indistinguishable; except, in some charter schools two teachers in a room or state of the art instructional materials and supplies. The “dirty little secret” is philanthropy, in order to supplement the per student funds provided by the state, dollars that come out of school district budgets, charter schools aggressively raise money through 501c3 provisions in the tax code that provides tax advantages to contributors. The following is from Guidestar,

Success Academy Charter Schools

Success Academy Charter Schools Inc.

New York, NY | EIN: 20-5298861 |  Number: 4461446442

The dual mission of Success Academy Charter Schools is to create exceptional public schools that prepare children from all backgrounds …



Success Academy Charter Schools – NYC

New York, NY | EIN: 36-4629540 |  Number: 3584759733



Yes, some charter school networks have raised incredible amounts of money – side by side in the same building, very richly funded charters and underfunded public schools.

The reality is quite different than the purpose of the law, which leads to the question – why does the state continue to authorize new charter schools? I would suggest the legislature and the governor, following the lead of the NAACP, impose a moratorium on the creation and/or expansion of charter schools. The NAACP resolution,

We are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as:

(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools

(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system

(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and

(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in interviews for New York City Public Advocate who will be chosen in a Special Election on February 26th. Of the nine candidates who were interviewed seven were current elected officials, I asked them if they agreed with the NAACP and would they support a moratorium, all said “yes.”

The legislature/governor should mirror the NAACP and pass a law imposing a moratorium on the authorization and/or expansion of charter schools.

Authorizers can extend a charter for up to five years, and, the authorizer sets forth a range of Charter Frameworks (See here); authorizers can choose not to renew the charter and close the school, renew for a full five year term or fewer than five years; in my view the Frameworks are far too vague and permissive.

The law requires that charter schools make “good faith efforts” to enroll “comparable” numbers of students with disabilities, Title 1 students and English language learners as neighboring public schools.  “Good faith efforts” is not defined, and charters that routinely fail to enroll students referenced above are renewed. A remedy to this issue is to recommend to the legislature a number of changes to the charter law, I suggest changes, indicated in bold type below, that I believe would clarify the law.

Under the law “district” refers to New York City (cities with over one million inhabitants) the law should be changed so that “district” means the Community Education Council (CEC) in which the charter school or proposed charter school is located. This would allow for Council members, parents, to play a significant role in the charter granting process.

Another issue is the failure of a charter school to reach enrollment or retention targets within the five years of the original or subsequent charters, in these cases the SED recommends two, three or four year renewals. I suggest making it clear that if a charter school fails to meet enrollment/retention targets within four years it faces  non-renewal of the charter.

Recommended Changes in the Language of the Charter School Law:

Section 2851 1 Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based  accountability  systems by holding  the schools  established  under  this  article  accountable  for  meeting  measurable  student achievement results. Failure to meet measurable student achievement goals by  the fourth year of the charter shall be grounds for non-renewal of the charter. Effective immediately there shall be a moratorium on the granting of new charters.

Section 2852 2 (d) in a school district where the total enrollment of resident students attending charter schools in the base year is greater than five percent of the total public school enrollment of the school district in the base year (i) granting the application  would  have  a  significant  educational  benefit  to  the  students  expected to attend the proposed  charter school or (ii) the school district in which the  charter  school  will be located consents to such application. In a school district in a city having a population of one million or more inhabitants, the district in which the proposed charter school would be located shall be defined as the Community School District in which the charter is located and the Community Education Council shall be the consenting authority. 

Section 2852 3 B (b) A description of student achievement goals for the school’s educational program and the chosen methods of evaluating that students have attained the skills and knowledge specified for those goals.  Such educational program shall meet or exceed the student performance standards adopted by the board of regents for other public schools. Failure to reach goals by the fourth year of the charter shall be grounds the non-renewal of the charter.

Section 2852 9b (i)  that the proposed charter school would meet or exceed enrollment and teacher and student retention targets, as prescribed by the  board  of  regents or the board of trustees of the state university of New York, as applicable, of students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who  are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. When  developing  such  targets,  the  board of regents and the board of  trustees of the state university of New York, shall ensure (1) that such  enrollment targets are comparable to or greater than the enrollment figures of such categories of students attending the public schools within the school  district, or in a city school district in a city having a population of one million or more inhabitants, the community school district, in which the  proposed charter school would be  located; and (2) that such retention targets are equal to or greater than the rate of retention of teachers and students attending the public schools within the school  district, or in a city school district in a city having a population  of  one million or more inhabitants, the community school district, in which  the proposed charter school would be located; and (3) failure to achieve targets listed supra by the fourth year of the charter shall for grounds for non-renewal of the charter (4) the chartering entity shall collect information listing the reason for non-retention of students and teachers as well academic level of students leaving the charter school.

Among the prime purposes of the charter school law,

(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;(

d) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, school  administrators and other school personnel; 

This has clearly not been the case, the “teaching methods” in charter schools mirror the methods in district schools and there is no evidence of “new professional opportunities” in charter schools.

I recommend amending the law to call for a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. The creation of new charter schools saps funds away from district schools and the new charter schools are in no way are “innovative.” Additionally the law should be amended to make all charter school data, especially financial data as transparent as possible.

A careful reading of the law may result in other clarifying changes, the current law is simply too vague, at least as read by the authorizers, I believe that clarifying changes would go a long way towards tightening the law and the interpretation of the law and would be applauded by the vast percentage of public school parents.

Upcoming Legislative Session: Should the Legislature Renew, Amend or Abandon the Mayoral Control Law?

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” (10th Amendment to the Constitution)

Education policy in our nation is set by fifty states and the federal government, and, varies widely from state to state. In California the education leader is elected in a statewide election at the same time as the governor, in other states governors appoint boards of education, governors directly appoint commissioners, in New York State the governor has no role, and members of the board are “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature.

In the 14,000 school districts across the nation elected lay school boards hire superintendents, in a handful of urban districts mayors directly appoint superintendents or appoint boards who hire a superintendent.

Our federal system devolves educational decision-making to the states.

How should school systems be governed?

  • superintendents hired by elected school boards
  • superintendents hired by a mayor
  • superintendents hired by school boards appointed by a mayor

These choices lead to other questions:

  • Should education decisions be made outside of the political process? Or, are all decisions “political”?
  • If schools are funded by mayors, shouldn’t the mayor have a voice in the educational process?
  • Has the election process for school boards become too politicized?
  • Will mayors make education decisions to enhance their political resume?
  • And probably dozens of other questions

New York City has run the gamut, prior to 1970 a school board, vetted by a screening panel, hired a superintendent who was always a senior superintendent from within the city. In the 60’s the nation was split apart by urban violence: riots in Los Angeles,  Newark and Detroit were ripped apart by racial violence, while New York tittered on the edge, the city avoided the viral riots that were engulfing the nation.

In the late 60’s the Ford Foundation, a predecessor of the Gates Foundation, funded decentralization pilots in three neighborhoods, Two Bridges (Lower East Side), IS 201 (East Harlem) and Oceanhill-Brownsville (Brooklyn), small clusters of schools were treated as school districts with wide authority. In 1968 the Oceanhill-Brownsville school board “discharged” a group of teachers, the mayor, John Lindsay, failed to intervene and a 40-day strike ensued in the fall of 1968. In the winter/spring of 1969 the state legislature debated a reorganization of the New York City school system. The Ford Foundation released a detailed plan to decentralize the city schools, to basically create  geographic school districts with fiscal, curricula and personnel authority. (See Ford Foundation, Reconnection for Learning report here). After months of debate a decentralized school system was voted into law.

From 1970 until 2002 a decentralized school system was both plagued by outright corruption in the poorest districts and innovative programs designed and implemented by elected local school boards in a few other districts. For example, District 22 (Flatbush, Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay) created and implemented a school integration plan; over 1,000 Afro American children bused from overcrowded segregated schools to underutilized all white schools, and, sadly, in others, supervisory jobs were traded for political favors and/or cash.

In the 90’s the central board, appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor, removed the lowest performing schools from districts and created a Chancellor’s District, with excellent documented results.

Mayor Bloomberg, pointing to significant inadequacies of a decentralized school system, and with support of a wide spectrum of organizations, convinced the legislature to move to a mayoral control management structure, a central school board (Panel for Educational Priorities) with a majority appointed by the mayor and local school boards (Community Education Councils) with an advisory-only role. The Chancellor’s District was abandoned.

Bloomberg hired a lawyer/litigator as chancellor and the mayoral control system structure swayed from ten mega-districts, each with hundreds of schools, to Knowledge Networks, to Empowerment to Affinity Networks.

Mayor de Blasio selected a new chancellor and returned to geographic school districts.

The original mayoral control law has a sunset provision, the law must be renewed by the set date or the system will revert to the decentralization model. Under Bloomberg the renewals of the law were routine, under de Blasio, a democratic mayor, the republican Senate held the law hostage to “givebacks,” the renewal of the law was coupled with pro-charter school items.

With overwhelming democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature and a democratic governor one might assume the law will be renewed without much debate.

The governor could include the renewal in the state budget; obviating any substantive debate, or, not. The speaker of the NY City Council and the chair of the Council Education Committee have both voiced questions: the Council approves the city budget, including school funding, yet has no roll in the creation of policy, they might want to change the law to give the Council a greater role: a seat on the Central Board (PEP), or, oversight responsibility in the statute, or, PEP members appointed for fixed terms,and not serve at the whim of the mayor, or, who knows?

In the last few years the debate has lingered and decided in the last days of the session, called “The Big Ugly,” totally unconnected items are linked to gain passage in the waning hours of the session.

Boston, New York City and Chicago have mayoral control systems, in New York and Boston the plans have been widely accepted, albeit with criticism, in Chicago endless battling between the mayor and school community.

Los Angeles is governed by an elected school board with a pro-charter majority who hired a hedge funder as superintendent; after months and months of acrimonious battling the school system is on the edge of a systemwide strike.

The extension of mayoral control may be totally non-controversial, or, once again, could become part of the “Big Ugly” deal-making in June.

Is a 1.1 million student system manageable? Is the current system “too political?” Should parents/teachers/communities have a greater role?

Should we “rip it down” and start anew?  Or, build a bottom-up system with parents/teachers/colleges and communities playing the major role? In other words, create “little Finlands”? or, tweak around the edges? or, simply, renew the current law?


Upcoming Albany Legislative Session: School Aid Funding and an Albany Politics Primer

In the next few blogs I’ll be addressing the education issues that will dominate Albany, in the current blog a teaching moment about the “politics” of the legislative process and education funding.

Gideon J. Tucker, a Surrogate Court Judge in the New York State courts, in a decision, wrote, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

For decades the New York State legislature was a part time job for most legislators, the Assembly and the Senate met a few days a week from January till June with full weeks during “budget week,” the last week in March, and, the last week of the session in June. (See the 2019 session calendar here   and public hearing calendar here). Legislators may have a law practice, real estate, run a business, and others full time. All legislators have an office in their district.  In 1998 the $57.000 salary was increased to $79,500, plus additional salary for some committee chairmanships (“lulu”) and per diem stipend for each day in Albany. Over the last twenty years the job has become a full time position for most legislators, and, no raises. After years of “quiet” discussions a committee made up of the NYS and NYC Comptrollers decided upon phased in raises to increase salary to $130,000, limited outside income, eliminated additional stipends and requires an on time budget; there will probably be legal challenges.

The legislators return on Wednesday to listen to the Governor’s State of the State message, speeches by the Assembly and Senate leaders and a number of receptions.

The 150 Assembly members and the 63 Senators, for the first time in memory are firmly in the democratic column.

In the Congress bills are passed in both houses, reconciled and passed along to the president for signature, in Albany, the governor is an integral part of the process. The reason is a quirk in law; New York State budgets must be passed by April 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, and, the budget can contain anything, policies that have absolutely nothing to do with the budget. The highest court in the state confirmed this practice.

While leaders in both houses have clear agendas the governor also has an agenda  ,

Democratic control of the state Senate this year is expected to lead to the passage of long-sought liberal goals, including campaign finance reforms and changes to voter registration laws that range from early registration to making it easier to change your party affiliation.

But in recent days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has seemed skeptical that the one-house bills that have glided through the Assembly will pass with the same ease in the new legislative session.

“Pass the Roe v. Wade that you said you would pass,” Cuomo said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “Pass public finance like you said you would pass. Pass campaign finance. Pass the Contraceptive Care Act. I will sign it in a heartbeat. They have to now do what they said they would do when they passed those bills. Send me the public finance bill.”

If the legislature does not pass the bills he favors he could simply roll the bills into the budget talks and the legislators will be forced to either submit to Cuomo, or, go past the budget deadline and jeopardize their raise; although a late budget would also damage the governor who clearly has eyes on higher office.

Yes, Judge Tucker’s warning about the legislature still resonates today.

In February the governor will release his Executive Budget, it will be 2% higher than the current budget as per his self-imposed constraints. Each house will pass a “one-house” budget and in the waning days of March, if the script follows previous years, a budget will be voted on throughout the night of March 31st into the dawn hours of April 1st; unless, the newly elected democrats in the Senate decide to do battle with the governor.

Notice: there has been virtually no discussion of state education aid; a topic that usually dominate pre-budget talks.

Education advocates and the newly elected senators from New York City led by Robert Jackson, one of the original Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) litigants and a newly elected senator will be leading the fight. Jackson and the advocates aver the state “owes” New York City billions of CFE dollars that were halted by the 2008 Great Recession. Cuomo disagrees, and, appeals to other low wealth, high poverty districts,

Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted in a radio interview Thursday he backs more funding for poorer school districts in New York as he also seeks to turn aside a push from education advocates to add $4 billion in direct education aid this year …  the perennial push from education advocates to settle what they say are the terms of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

Cuomo in the interview Thursday insisted it was a settled matter.

“That is not an opinion. That is a fact. The CFE lawsuit was settled,” Cuomo said, while adding education advocates who have antagonized him over the issue are “wrong.”

“There are people who say the world is flat, OK?” he said.

But at the same time, Cuomo indicated he’s willing to provide additional funding to low-income and needy districts. It’s a potential olive branch extended as one of the original plaintiffs in the CFE case, Robert Jackson, will be a freshman Democratic state senator this year.

“We don’t give poor schools enough funding. That is true,” Cuomo said. “My point is the poorer schools need more funding because they have a greater challenge. Let’s give the poorer schools more.”

Still, there may not  sufficient money to stretch school aid. Cuomo once again has signaled he wants to keep overall spending in the budget capped at a 2 percent ceiling.

A quick review of education funding: 2/3 of education dollars come from local property taxes, the increases have been capped at 2% by provisions in each budget since Cuomo was elected. School budgets are on the ballot in May school board elections, except, in New York City, education dollars are part of the city budget. Per capita funding varies widely, high wealth suburban districts to low wealth urban (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse) and rural districts. New York City is at the midpoint of the spectrum.

State aid provides about 1/3 of the state education dollars and most of the state dollars, called foundation aid, are distributed by formula attempting to some extent equalize the funding gap.

The Board of Regents spends the Fall constructing a budget proposal for the legislature/governor, the budget priorities below, click here to read the details.

2019-2020 Proposal ($2.1 billion):

• Foundation Aid Phase-in ($1.66 billion)

• ELL Support within Foundation Aid ($85 million)

• Expense-based Aids ($410 million)

• Universal Prekindergarten ($26 million)

• Career and Technical Education ($25 million)

While New York State provides the highest per capita funding in the nation  it also is among the most inequitable distributions by district in the nation. Other states provide all funding from the state, no wealth-based education funding, and the state legislature has shown no interest in disrupting the current system.

The dilemma: how can the state provide more dollars for the poorest districts and also provide additional dollars for the suburban districts; Robin Hood versus more dollars for all, and, keeping within the “rules” set by the governor?

And remember: the governor’s goal of fulfilling the Cuomo family dream that his father failed to pursue.

Next topics:

Mayoral Control

Charter Schools

Specialized High Schools Admittance Procedures

Christmas Past and Christmas Future: Reflecting on 2018 and Anticipating Education Policies in 2019

My phone alarm chimes and I reach for the TV remote tuned to MSNBC: what catastrophe happened over night? Are we at war with someone or some nation? Another outrageous tweet from 45? An environmental disaster? It’s been a disturbing year, and, I’m angry, angry all the time, angry at my fellow Americans, angry at dems who just couldn’t vote for Hillary. I know I have to get over it; every disastrous policy reignites my anger.

The current issue of The Atlantic has an excellent article delving into our anger, “The Roots of American Rage: The untold story of how anger became the dominant emotion in our political and personal lives-and what we can do about it,” give a read.

On the last day of 2018 I reflect on the year in education and muse about the New Year.

This was not a good year for the education reform crowd, Robert Pondiscio at the conservative Fordham Institute writes,

 * If shares in the education reform movement could be purchased in the stock market, neutral analysts would grade them “underperform” and probably “sell.” 

 *  The “historic” rate of high school graduation is frothy at bestfraudulent at worst. It is not possible to look at the big indicators of K–12 performance over the last few decades—NAEP, PISA, SAT, and ACT scores—and claim that ed reform at large has been a success. The payoff is simply not there.

 *…we have mostly overplayed our hand, overstated our expertise, and outspent our moral authority by a considerable margin as we morphed from idealism to policymaking. Education reform’s policy prerogatives have transformed schooling in ways that parents don’t much like—test-based accountability, in particular, …. Disruption was precisely the point, of course, but there’s always a trade-off, an implied cost-benefit bargain. If you want the public’s permission to fundamentally alter the relationship between Americans and their schools, there has to be a clear, compelling, and demonstrable upside in time for people to see it. If the reform policy playbook was going to drive transformational, system-wide gains in American education, we’d have seen it by now.

 While reform may have exhausted its run the attack on unions accelerated.

 The attack on teacher unions: Janus succeeded after years of planning; however, it has failed to erode the strength of union, in fact, it appears to have strengthened the power of unions as evidenced by state-wide strikes. Conservatives, like Dale Chu, also at the Fordham Institute, call for “collective bargaining reform ;” basically eviscerating the ability of unions to bargain on a level playing field. What Chu fails to acknowledge is management has to agree with any agreement, and, management works for elected school boards or mayors. Democracy can be tough to swallow.

In spite of DeVos, in spite of attack after attack on teachers and their union the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter; although an economic downturn, a recession, could derail education funding.

On the state level a frustrating year, lots of sound and fury, without much to show for it. The Board of Regents continued endless meetings over constructing an Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, a successor to No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  I sat through many, many hours of meetings, some led by Linda Darling Hammond and Scott Marion, I was waiting for the final exam! and promise not to publish pictures of napping Board of Regents members (only kidding).

Sadly, kids still take Common Core-lite exams and the exams are used to shame and punish. While an increasing number of Regents members are calling for alternatives to testing pilots the commissioner has shown no interest.

On positive side,

The My Brothers Keeper  (MBK) initiative has been well-funded by the legislature, and, is showing positive outcomes.

Resistance to charter schools grew among the Regents as well as a general assertiveness in policy-making;  a growing  “push-pull” between the commissioner and the Board.

In New York City an early collective bargaining agreement and paid maternity and child care leaves are major achievements; over 70,000 kids in Universal Pre-Kindergarten and kids in 3 for All, pre-k for three years olds in the poorest districts in the city.

Next year, 2019, is a hopeful year: a Blue Wave across the nation; however, will the new democrats replicate the policies of Obama/Duncan or Diane Ravitch and the Network for Public Education?

At the state level the wave was a tsunami, the democrats will hold a 40 to 23 seat edge in the Senate overturning many, many years of Republican control.

Everyone is expecting, hoping for, full funding for education, including full payment of the CFE lawsuit in New York City and an equalizing up of school funding across the state.

Unquestioningly, there will be bills to increase transparency in charter schools, and perhaps a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools.

The much reviled moratorium on the use of test scores to assess teacher performance may be made permanent and a return of teacher assessment to local school districts.

On the local level, New York City, the not so new chancellor has become virtually indivisible, occasionally tweeting; however, the only “innovations” are sections of the new teacher contract that begins in February, and, increasingly questions about mayoral control: is it “too political,”? how much independence should a school district leader have? Mayoral Control is up for renewal by the state legislature.

School integration still dominates the education news, although the kids impacted are few. The Department reports 14.7% of white kids in the city, and, without busing, which is not on the table, school integration appears limited to a few school districts. Whether the city or the state legislature is anxious to take on the question of the admission test to specialized high schools, the largest headlines, is questionable; and, the Chancellor’s Advisory Task Force Report on Equity and Diversity, due in December is delayed without a release date.

I guess you can say I’m “cautiously optimistic.”

“Politics” has a bad reputation, and, in too many instances a deserved bad reputation; however, turning your back on politics is surrender. Politics is not only coming out on Election Day, politics is immersing yourself in the process, every day, in every election cycle, in every election. Every time teachers with parent allies support a candidate you are costing the opponent money, and the audience includes every other elected. The UFT is holding interviews among the candidates for Public Advocate, open interviews; a few hundred union members will be attending the three interview sessions. Some say: who cares? The Public Advocate probably shouldn’t even exist: every election counts. It counts because it shows the power and influence of teacher unions, it’s an example to all other electeds and candidates..

Take a listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing “We are the 99” at an Occupy Wall Street rally.


Politics Rules: Who Will the UFT Endorse for New York City Public Advocate? And, Why Endorse Anyone?

What the heck is the Public Advocate?

New York City is governed by the City Charter, actually the 300 plus page “constitution” for the city. As a result of changes to the charter, necessitated by a federal court decision in 1989, the Board of Estimate was eliminated and a Public Advocate was created. The city is now led by a Mayor, the Chief Executive Officer, a Comptroller, the Chief Financial Officer, a fifty-one member City Council and a Public Advocate (PA) whose duties are described in the Charter (see above link beginning on page 16).

The PA was envisioned as an ombudsman for the city; however, the position has emerged as a stopping off place before running for higher office. The first PA, Mark Green ran and lost in a run for mayor, Bill de Blasio, a previous PA is now the mayor, Letitia James the current PA was elected as NYS Attorney General in November and will assume the position on January 1st, creating a vacancy.

The Charter requires that an election be scheduled within 45 days of the date of resignation of the office holder (probably the last Tuesday in February); the election is a non-partisan election only requiring the requisite number of signatures to be placed on the ballot.  Fifteen potential candidates have formed fund-raising committees with a number of others possible – there could be over twenty candidates (!), and, there is no run off.

The New York City teacher union (UFT) is holding open interviews prior to an endorsement, on Tuesday I spent almost four hours listening to, questioning candidates and tweeting 240-character summaries of interviews (view here  Hundreds of members will attend the interviews (in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn) and the Delegate Assembly on January 16th may/will endorse a candidate.

Why should the union endorse anyone? After all, the Public Advocate has no legislative or executive authority.

Let me be a little crass, all decisions are political and all politics is local. If you want be relevant you must be up to your eye balls in local politics.

On the other hand politics is frequently viewed with disdain, in her autobiography, “Becoming,” Michelle Obama opines,

I had little faith in politics,” she writes. Nor did she have much faith in politicians and “therefore didn’t relish the idea of my husband becoming one,” she continues. “In my heart, I just believed there were better ways for a good person to have an impact.” 

 The image of politicians puffing on cigars and making corrupt deals is commonplace, and, reinforced by House of Cards and other dramatizations.

As the teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona learned spending months organizing, standing on picket lines, political engagement is required and running for office can the only path.

As a union leader I learned early on that a powerful political club controlled my school board, I joined the club, was a regular at Thursday night club night. The union endorsed school board candidates, made phone calls, printed and distributed palm cards, we acted as political operatives. The union had a seat at the table, or, at least, someone at the table would ask, “we should check with the union.”

School closings are political decisions, all decisions have a political element: fighting school closings is an example, I’ve written about strategies a number of times, “How to Fight Your School Closing, and “School Closings: It’s Never the Kids Fault.

“Politics” is not a strategy that you store in a closet until you need it. The UFT learned that lesson a long time ago, every year hundreds of UFT members travel to Albany on a lobby day. In the city union members meet with City Council members. I wrote a monthly newsletter to union members in my district with an occasional acknowledgment of an elected, ironically, I chided an elected in one issue and he haunted me for months to retract. I responded, “Do someone good that we can report and I’ll report it,” he did, we did, and our relationship was healed, and, it was a lesson for his fellow electeds.

Electeds or potential electeds scramble to “make the union happy” by supporting policies that union members support and opposing issues the union opposes. The union works closely with parents, civil rights organizations, other unions, they build coalitions.

Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be. Marshall McLean

The process of endorsement, the involvement of hundreds of members, the process empowers the union; the imagery is more powerful than any speech.
Come the January 16th the UFT Delegate Assembly will/may endorse a candidate; when the candidates are mostly friends it’s difficult to make choices.