Tag Archives: Bill de Blasio

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 https://twitter.com/edintheapple).  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.

Is “Gifted Education” an excuse for “Segregated Education?”

New York City has a long history of gifted education, in the pre-decentralization (pre-1970) days the Board of Education set city-wide standards for Intellectually Gifted Classes (IGC) in grades four to six – two years above grade level in reading and 1.5 years above in mathematics. At the junior high school level Special Progress (SP) classes, both three years and the accelerated two year models. At the high school level the legacy high schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech entrance exams as well as entrance examinations for the four-year CUNY colleges.

Testing did not start with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the state tested all fourth and eighth graders and New York City tested all kids – there were district tests, more tests in the 1990’s than today.

With the advent of decentralization school districts had wide discretion in the designation of classes. My school district created a range of “gifted” classes, from kindergarten through the fifth grade with a district Director of Gifted Education. The district employed a psychologist to test five year olds, and parents flocked to have their kids stamped as “gifted.” District 16 (Bedford-Stuyvesant) and District 7 (South Bronx) designed a single school as the gifted school – all “gifted kids,” as defined by the district, were assigned to the gifted school.

The Frederick Douglas Academy High School was opened in the 90’s and advertised as the Stuyvesant of Harlem, a screened school intended to attract the most gifted students in Harlem.

The District 3 (Upper West Side) school boards under decentralization created two categories of schools, small “gifted schools,” schools requiring higher reading and math scores, overwhelmingly white, and the other schools, overwhelmingly Afro-American and Hispanic.

The Bloomberg administration accelerated the creation of gifted schools, schools requiring higher state test scores and/or interviews. The 1974 Callendra-Hecht Law allowed for the creation of additional schools requiring the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT), the test required for the legacy high schools, five schools joined the SHSAT three legacy schools.

Over the twelve years of the Bloomberg mayoralty about two hundred screened schools were created, effectively siphoning off the higher achieving schools from the pool of schools.

Some argue that the creation and expansion of gifted classes and gifted schools is an attempt to limit “white flight,” the movement that began in the 50’s and 60’s of white families fleeing to the suburbs as black and Hispanic families moved into neighborhoods. The district in which I served as the teacher union representative fell into that category, the gifted programs were widely advertised, real estate offices were provided with folders praising the qualities of local schools, emphasizing the “Eagle” program, the name of the local gifted program.

The Bloomberg initiative might have been aimed at keeping Bloomberg voters in the city, neighborhoods lobbied for the creation of screened program, the newer euphemism for gifted schools.

Whether attempting to halt a new wave of white flight, or middle class flight or wanting to pacify potential voters the result has been to segregate schools as well as neighborhoods across the city.

The 2014 UCLA Civil Right Project study,

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

 Any argument that gifted children, whatever that means, requiring separate classes or separate schools lacks credibility.

Dawn X. Henderson (2017), “When ‘Giftedness’ Is a Guise for Exclusion,” writes,

Institutional racism permeates the public education system … Racism exists in the structure and processes of the public education system. It is often unconscious and difficult to challenge and change because people believe it is quite natural for one group of people to be dominant or intellectual inferior compared to another group of people. Society will also point to poor parenting and innate differences in intelligence, especially when we have “model minorities” who historically perform well on these tests. Metrics of ability and aptitude are given to affirm these beliefs and institutional structures such as “gifted” programs or college preparatory courses are pathways that sort individuals into this hierarchy.

 The selection process for admission to gifted programs is plagued with implicit bias and outright discrimination.

Courville and DeRouen, Louisiana State University (2009) “Minority Bias in Identification and Assessment of Gifted Students: A Historical Perspective and Prospects for the Future,” argues,

With a long history of research highlighting cultural bias against minority groups of varying ethnicities and culture, as well as contributing factors to discrimination such as gender and socioeconomic class, it would seem that increased awareness of a discriminatory past would lead to a reduction or elimination of bias in the identification process. Unfortunately, such a reduction has not been the prevailing trend, with present day educators continuing a systemic pattern of minority under representation.

 Joseph Renzulli at the Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education and Talent Development  has shown us that highly effective gifted education can take place within heterogeneous classrooms, while some schools and school districts have employed the Renzulli methods the screening and creation of separate classrooms still prevails.

For the last four years Chancellor Farina has simply ignored the issue – she was far more comfortable with the past, trying to support the pre-Bloomberg days in which she thrived. She was principal of PS 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a school that carefully selected their student body, it was, in effect, a private school at public school prices.

The Diversity Task Force is not due to report until December, the State Diversity and Equity Work Group are planning conference for the 18-19 school year, and, in the city the pressure builds.

The teacher union president, in an op ed in the NY Daily News “Diversify High Schools Now  http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/diversify-n-y-high-schools-article-1.4017794 suggests a number of commonsense methods, correcting a system that now creates “winning” and “losing” schools based on pre-determined entrance requirements, effectively clustering the lowest achieving kids in specific schools and holding all schools to the accountability metrics.

Mayor de Blasio, using Chalkbeat, the online education site, suggests his own plan,

Right now, we are living with monumental injustice. The prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black.

There’s also a geographic problem. There are almost 600 middle schools citywide. Yet, half the students admitted to the specialized high schools last year came from just 21 of those schools. For a perfect illustration of disparity: Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.

My administration has been working to give a wider range of excellent students a fair shot at the specialized high schools. Now we are going to go further. Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

De Blasio also calls for changing the current law that requires the use of the SHSAT as the sole entrance criteria.

It seems odd that the mayor suggests a plan to integrate the specialized high schools while his appointee, the chancellor, is still studying the problem. The chancellor can say, “great idea – let’s do it,” or create his own plan, and, the specialized high school “problem” while high profile fails to impact the other 400 or so high schools and 1200 or so other public schools.

Hovering in the background is the specter of the opens admissions debacle at the CUNY four-year colleges, the roiling civil right movement of the 60’s exploded on the City College campus in 1969 and the CUNY administration moved to an open admissions system, that became highly controversial.  Earlier today, wearing my City College cap, a gentleman asked, “What year?” We chatted, I asked, “Do you belong to the Alumni Association?” “No,” he responded, “I quit after open admissions, it ruined the college.” I assured him it returned to its former glory.

While open admissions formally ended in the 90’s, the admission is now selective; the City College student body reflects the population of the city.

Folks are still arguing over a program that began almost fifty years ago and was terminated twenty-five year ago.

Five weeks into the job, think Richard Carranza is having any second thoughts?

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis of Education Politics in New York

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis   of Education Politics in New York

New York City is a mayoral control city, meaning that the school leader, called the chancellor, is appointed by school board members (the Panel for Educational Priorities), a majority of whom are appointed by the mayor.  The chancellor is actually the deputy to the mayor for education. Chancellor Carranza’s tenure begins today – managing over 1800 schools, 1.1 million students and over 100,000 unionized employees. The chancellor’s chief of staff is Ursulina Ramirez who served in same role for the mayor in his previous elected office, Public Advocate. The agenda of the chancellor is the agenda of the mayor: both succeed or neither succeeds. Management models vary, from mayoral control (New York, Chicago, Boston, etc.) to Los Angeles, an elected board with millions spent on the elections to Houston, a divided nine-member board elected by geographic areas competing for resources; there is no right or wrong model.

The Mayor of New York City is an outspoken progressive who won a hotly contested 4-way primary election in 2013 and rolled to easy victories in the general elections in 2013 and 2017. Although de Blasio is firmly in the progressive camp the 51-member City Council is much further to the left. De Blasio is term limited, meaning he is building a national reputation for his next run for office, whatever it might be.

A hundred and twenty miles to the north is Albany, the state capital and the political home of Andrew Cuomo, running for his third term as governor. In spite a Republican-controlled Senate Cuomo signed one of the first Marriage Equality laws as well as the strictest gun control laws in the nation. No matter: he is being challenged from the left by Cynthia Nixon, an actor with a long resume of political activism.

De Blasio and Cuomo, both with progressive creds, are bitter enemies, each claiming the progressive mantle.

Tip-toeing between the two most powerful electeds in New York State is the leader of the New York City teacher union (UFT), Michael Mulgrew, who began his career as a carpenter and rather surprisingly became the fifth president of the UFT in 2009. Under constant attack from Mayor Bloomberg Mulgrew not only successfully thwarted the mayor’s attempts to erode the union’s contract, the public trusted the union more than the mayor. Sol Stern in the conservative City Journal reported,

… according to a poll of city voters … sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, with only 27 percent proclaiming it excellent or good; 69 percent said that students in the city’s schools weren’t ready for the twenty-first-century economy. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

 While the UFT did not endorse de Blasio in the primary Mulgrew has developed an excellent relationship with the mayor. After more than four years without a contract Mulgrew and de Blasio negotiated a contract with full back pay, de Blasio appointed Carmen Farina, a Department of Education lifer, created the 70,000 student pre-K for All program, and reaped constant praise on teachers. De Blasio and Mulgrew clearly like each other and de Blasio’s appearance at the UFT Delegate Assembly, a huge success – teachers like him.

The brand new de Blasio-Carranza administration faces negotiating a teacher contract; the current agreement expires on November 30th, although in New York State expired agreements remain in force until the successor agreement is agreed upon. One issue is paid maternity/child care leaves; teachers have to use sick days, there is no paid leave. Under Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) policies contracts must comply with “ability to pay” and “patterning bargaining.” Simply put: the union and the city will have to find dollars apart from the base salary increase or reduce the negotiated salary increase, which is unlikely.  Another major issue that applies only to the UFT is the Absent Teacher Reserve, 700 plus teachers who were excessed from closed schools, each year every closed school pumps more teachers into the pool: a bad Bloomberg policy and an expensive policy. If the ATRs are returned to schools can the dollars saved be used for a paid maternity/child care leave settlement?  Just speculating!  I imagine this week, while teachers are on spring break, the new chancellor will be meeting with all the players on the NYC education scene.

The union’s relationship with Cuomo is far more complicated.

The UFT is the largest local in NYSUT, the state teacher union organization. There are 700 school districts, 700 local teacher unions in the state. From New York City, to the other “Big Five” (Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers), to the high tax, high wealth suburban districts to the hundreds of low wealth rural districts that struggle to pay heating bills. The gap in funding among school districts in New York State is among the greatest in the nation.  That’s right: we lead the nation in racially segregated schools and the inequality of school funding.

NYSUT represents all the locals and lobbies for more education dollars for all schools, Cuomo added a section to the budget requiring districts to phase in a dollar by dollar accounting of all education expenditures: a first step to equalizing state education dollars?

Bruce Baker in his superb School Finance 101 blog  is concise,

            To be blunt, money does matter. Schools and districts with more money clearly have greater ability to provide higher-quality, broader, and deeper educational opportunities to the children they serve. Furthermore, in the absence of money, or in the aftermath of deep cuts to existing funding, schools are unable to do many of the things they need to do in order to maintain quality educational opportunities. Without funding, efficiency tradeoffs and innovations being broadly endorsed are suspect. One cannot tradeoff spending money on class size reductions against increasing teacher salaries to improve teacher quality if funding is not there for either – if class sizes are already large and teacher salaries non-competitive. While these are not the conditions faced by all districts, they are faced by many.

While good for New York City, equity in school funding could set school district against school district across the state and “wealthier” local teacher unions versus “poorer” local teacher unions.

NYSUT opposes the use of student data to assess teacher performance, the current matrix system that combines supervisory observations with measures of student learning is supported by UFT, the new system sharply reversed the Bloomberg era – over 3000 adverse rating.

NYSUT comes close to endorsing the opt-out movement, 20% of parents, heavily concentrated in the suburbs are the opt-out base, very few opt-out schools in NYC and the UFT position is: a parental choice.

The elephants will continue to trample the grass: Is Cuomo maneuvering for a 2020 presidential run, and, if so, how will he situate himself on progressive, educational and teacher union issues?

De Blasio is term-limited, what are his political aspirations?

Although de Blasio is on the left; the furthest left since La Guardia, not far enough to the left for his political rivals within the Democratic Party.

Cuomo has a progressive resume and continues to push toward more and more anti-gun measures and has forced the city to cough up millions for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and to repair the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), aka low-income housing, using the budgetary powers of the governor to pre-empt the powers of the NYC mayor.

There is a long history of political rivalry in New York; back in 1804 after tossing insults back and forth Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton “settled” their dispute on the Palisades. While dueling pistols are now museum pieces the modern equivalent is alive and well. Joe Prococo, Cuomo’s closest assistant, whose father Mario called my “third son,” is convicted of taking bribes while working as son Andrew’s closest confident, A strong supporter of de Blasio, Cynthia Nixon, is running against Cuomo in the September democratic primary. Cuomo forces de Blasio to budget hundreds of millions for MTA repairs even though the MTA is a state agency, and, also forces de Blasio to budget 250 million for NYCHA repairs overseen by an outside monitor.

In midst of the boulder throwing Mulgrew has to work with the two Megatrons, a daunting task.

Even within the union the political caucuses urge moving to the left, supporting or opposing this candidate or that candidate. The union meetings, the monthly Delegate Assemblies give Mulgrew and opportunity to “teach,” to float ideas, to interact with local school union leadership.

In my early days as a school district union leader a new superintendent, with a tough reputation was selected, some school union leaders argued we should picket his office on his first day, show him we’re as tough as he was reputed to be. I was fortunate, I was mentored by union leadership who spent a career in the foxholes of politics, dodging bullets and bombs from both sides. I realized I didn’t only represent the militants, I represented all the members. My day-to-day job was responding to their needs: getting a salary or health plan issue resolved, an emergency leave approved, getting a principal off a teacher’s back, and I needed a nod from the superintendent. We worked out a “mature” relationship, we “agreed to disagree” on issues, no surprises, always gave him a heads up if I was going to be publicly critical, and public acclaim for doing “the right thing,” and, not to slighted, we were both avid Mets fans.

On a much larger stage Mulgrew has navigated the political landscape, both praising and criticizing city and state leadership, and, teaching his membership, politics is a romance with good days and not so good days.

If he can get de Blasio and Cuomo to hug, I have a problem in the Middle East he can tackle next.

Branding the de Blasio-Farina Vision of Education: Can the “New Guys” Create a Vision for the School System?

New administrations, whether in politics or business, attempt to brand themselves – attempt to set themselves apart from the administration they replaced.

“the process of creating a relationship or a connection between a company’s product and emotional perception of the customer for the purpose of building loyalty among customers… a fulfillment in customer expectations and consistent customer satisfaction”

Sometimes a simple phrase, FDR’s New Deal branded the new administration. For de Blasio the “tale of two cities” theme has resonated through his policy choices, from ending “stop and frisk,” to a “living wage,” more “affordable housing,” and, of course, ”Universal Pre-Kindergarten,” the campaign to embed the de Blasio brand.

Days after de Blasio took the oath of office the city restarted contract negotiations with the teachers union, removing the impediment of angry teachers and other city workers was crucial.

After Cuomo refused to grant NYC the right to raise taxes to fund PreK the State budget agreement provided adequate dollars for Universal Pre K, although the time frame to implement was short.

As the summer began, and six months into her chancellorship, the whispers started, when was the new administration at Tweed going to lay out its vision, what was going to change?

The old guard, the Bloomberg-Klein devotees worried, for good reason, everything they built would be dismantled, after all, that’s what the Bloomberg administration did; they trashed everything that proceeded.

The Bloomberg administration branded themselves, dismantling decentralization and creating mayoral control, the closing of scores of schools and the creation of hundreds of new schools, supporting new charter schools, the co-location of charter schools in public school building, the letter A to F School Report Cards, all policies, according to Bloomberg, improving a dysfunctional school system: he branded himself: Michael Bloomberg, the educational mayor.

Last week de Blasio fulfilled a campaign pledge, he changed the School Report Card from A to F letters grades to a four-page “Quality Snapshot” and a multiple page “Quality Guide” for staffers with new school descriptions, “exceeding, meeting, approaching or not meeting standards.” Schools, also, will no longer be ranked.

See sample Reports here: http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/default.htm

Chalkbeat reports the criticism,

Groups that supported the previous administration and have been critical of Fariña called her speech a disappointment and said it failed to address head-on the city’s many struggling schools. Even people who praised the new evaluations said it was troubling that the city did not say how it will use the ratings to prop up low-performing schools.

Joseph Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College, said the evaluation shift represents an improvement from the previous administration’s “top-down approach to reform.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “it does not outline a real plan for what [this administration] intends to do with failing schools.”

Chancellor Farina is enormously popular with teachers, her praise of staffs, her emphasis on trust and collaboration, her refusal to close schools, and looked upon with suspicion by the Bloomberg crowd and the “reform” elites.

After all, didn’t they sharply increase graduation rates, close dysfunctional schools, challenge the union, and train dynamic young principals?

While the Bloomberg team was effective in branding themselves as educational innovators and reformers, the NY Post was in their pocket and the NY Daily News usually supportive, and, the NY Times occasionally critical, usually supportive. On the national scene Bloomberg was the education mayor: changing the direction of education in the city.

In reality, the credit recovery fraud, the packing of at-risk kids into schools targeted for closing, questionable marking of regents papers all cast doubt on the increases in graduation rates, and the appalling college and career readiness rates, the disastrous completion rates in community colleges all question the accuracy of the graduation rates.

de Blasio can’t wait a decade to assess the impact of pre-Kindergarten; Farina can’t wait a couple of years to see if reading and math scores jump…

de Blasio and Farina have to take ownership, to brand their approach, to convince the public that their vision of education is best for their children. And, if the vision is unclear, if the new vision looks like older visions, if the Post and the Daily News and elites and decision-makers and the political power structure lose confidence the entire administration can be in trouble.

What the First Grade Says About the Rest of Your Life, and How We Change Destiny

Teachers are flooding back to school today: a new contract, a new chancellor, no new school closings, and no ill-conceived new ideas, and, yes, there are grades aside from pre-kindergarten, the one very high profile new initiative.

For the first time in a dozen years we have a mayor and a chancellor who understand the “tale of two cities,” many families in New York City as well as around the state who live in poverty while others bask in luxury.

In the press release that accompanied the release of the state test scores Commissioner King wrote,

“Although there is some correlation between 2014 math and ELA performance and poverty, there are many examples of schools outperforming demographically similar peer schools.”

(See http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/pressRelease/20140814/home.html for a list of higher achieving schools and higher growth schools at both higher and lower levels of wealth.)

A quick scan shows us that many of the low wealth/higher achieving schools are screened schools, i.e., principals choose their students. It would make much sense to use “zip code by poverty” than Title 1 eligibility.

There is no question that occasionally a high poverty school “beats the odds,” and, the Education Trust has written extensively about the qualities of these schools (“Yes We Can: Dispelling Myths About Race and Education in America, September 2006″).

If we analyze how the “beat the odds” schools differ from other high poverty schools:

School Leadership: There are endless college programs that grant school leadership certificates – unfortunately the candidates are not exemplary – even the highly touted New York City Leadership Academy does not uniformly produce highly successful principals. School leadership determines school quality and the evidence of the qualities of highly effective school leaders is still elusive. Nature or nurture? Are highly effective principals the result of excellent training programs or inherent qualities? A leadership gene? Growing up in a household that fostered qualities that lead to the qualities of effective leadership?

Teaching-learning synergy: We measure the quality of the teacher and we measure student outcomes, it is still difficult to understand why some teachers are simply more successful than other teachers. The Gates Measures of Effective Teaching Study videotaped thousands of lessons without identifying that “certain something” that could be replicated classroom to classroom.

Reflective teaching: Teachers who regularly ask themselves, from lesson to lesson, from day to day, what was effective, what was not, how can I change the elements of my lesson to make them more effective? Mike Schmoker calls these “checks for understanding,” teachers who do not wait for kids to change, teachers who realize that teaching impacts learning and, unchanged teaching practice that do not change outcomes must be altered.

The union and the contract as partners, not obstacles: In an increasing number of schools the school leadership includes the UFT chapter leader; in some the school leader and the union leadership are at odds. In some schools union chapters use the contract clauses to allow for flexibility in others the contract is used to prevent school leadership initiatives.

True collegiality and collaboration: .Some principals are actually instructional leaders, they lead professional development, they teach demonstration lessons and they have earned the respect of the staff and the student body; however, too few principals possess the skills to actually lead.

With all of these elements the progress may not reflect in dramatically higher test scores. The progress may be measured in fewer suspensions, better attendance and less lateness, more students doing homework, more students engaged in lessons, moving from high level one to low level two is progress.

Yes, there are outliers, there are a few schools with that special combination of school leadership and staff, a combination that is exceptionally difficult to replicate, a combination that may make progress, progress that may not result in a majority of students on level three or higher.

For too many kids in spite of the yeoman efforts of school leaders and teachers geography is destiny.

The Washington Post reports on the end of a twenty-five year study

For 25 years, the authors of The Long Shadow tracked the life progress of a group of almost 800 predominantly low-income Baltimore school children … The authors’ fine-grained analysis confirms that the children who lived in more cohesive neighborhoods, had stronger families, and attended better schools tended to maintain a higher economic status later in life. Combining original interviews with Baltimore families, teachers, and other community members with the empirical data gathered from the authors’ groundbreaking research, The Long Shadow unravels the complex connections between socioeconomic origins and socioeconomic destinations to reveal a startling and much-needed examination of who succeeds and why.

The Russell Sage Foundation writes,

“We like to think that education is an equalizer — that through it, children may receive the tools to become entrepreneurs when their parents were unemployed, lawyers when their single moms had 10th-grade educations. But [the researchers] kept coming back to one data point: the 4 percent of disadvantaged children who earned college degrees by age 28 … education did not appear to provide a dependable path to stable jobs and good incomes for the worst off.

The story is different for children from upper-income families, who supplement classroom learning with homework help, museum trips and college expectations. [the researchers] found one exception: Low-income white boys attained some of the lowest levels of education. But they earned the highest incomes among the urban disadvantaged.”

Let me repeat: only 4% of the disadvantaged children earned college degrees by the age of 28 – among the “urban disadvantaged” white males earned the highest incomes.

Race and class, not education, was the determinant as far as stable jobs and good income are concerned.

We have a mayor, a chancellor and some members of the Regents who understand that education, teaching and learning, cannot be separated from the realities of day to day life. The governor and the legislature and mayors have to work to lessen the “tale of two cities,” the electeds must create jobs and affordable housing and health care.

How about equalizing the district to district disparity in funding? How about encouraging policies that integrate instead of segregating schools? How about understanding that the teacher evaluation process (APPR) is fatally flawed? And, how about creating a testing system that is useful to parents and teachers instead of responding to federal mandates?

Perhaps in a school year without the acrimony of the last decade we can begin to both acknowledge the need for working on the economic inequities and creating more effective schools.

Are Reducing Suspension Rates and Safe Schools Antithetical? Finding a Balance Between Safety, Respect and Trust in a Turbulent World

In the week after the mayoral election the incoming de Blasio administration set up a transition tent on Canal Street and posted the events of the day, panels and workshops on a wide range of topics. I showed up for the education panel – the NAACP, ACLU, a minister (now running for Congress) from a Harlem church and a few others discussing an assortment of school issues. The panelists were outraged by the number and severity of school suspensions.

The 32-page NYC School Discipline Code (revised 2013) has been scrutinized and revised every few years, the Code describes unacceptable conduct in detail and lists the levels of discipline. Unacceptable conduct begins with “uncooperative behavior” and moves up the ladder to “disorderly” to “disruptive” to “aggressive or injurious” to “seriously dangerous or violent.” The Code recommends “restorative approaches” with children and at each step there is an appeal avenue. Suspensions range from a few days in school to movement to an off-site suspension center and in rare cases to expulsion.

All “incidents” must be entered into the Online Reporting Student Suspension (ORSS) system with substantial backup information. The data is monitored by the superintendent as well as the borough safety team.

I spoke with an experienced department administrator:

1. The suspensions are actually shorter in duration; the time the student is out of the school prior to the hearing is counted as time served.
2. Arrests require an infraction – not the whim of a department employee.
3. Most suspensions take place because the parent doesn’t respond when called or show up for the hearing. Too often the parental response is “I have no control over my child” – the only option is a suspension.

In 2011 the NYC chapter of the ACLU issued a report sharply critical of suspension policies under the Bloomberg administration,

Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspension in New York City Schools, a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union demonstrating a drastic spike in student suspensions under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s watch. The report, based on an analysis of a decade of previously undisclosed suspension data, finds that New York City schools suspend nearly twice as many students as they did a decade ago and the lengths of suspensions are becoming longer — a trend that disproportionately affects black students and students with special needs.

The overuse of suspensions denies children their right to a public education. It’s pushing students from the classroom into the criminal justice system. A study of secondary school students, published in the Journal of School Psychology, showed that students who were suspended were 26 percent more likely to be involved with the legal system than their peers.

The ACLU and other civil rights organizations call suspension policies a “school to prison pipeline,”

The School to Prison Pipeline operates directly and indirectly. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, juvenile detention referrals, and even criminal charges and incarceration. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.

School discipline-suspension policies are high on the de Blasio-Farina agenda. Chancellor Farina, in her 100-Day speech referenced student suspensions,

A school culture in which students feel safe, valued, and respected is critical to our success. That includes rethinking how we respond to student misconduct. An over-reliance on suspension is not the answer. I have worked to change the tone towards our schools, and now I will try to improve the tone within them.

I believe that we need more supportive approaches to student discipline, and we’re developing them; for example, by helping schools embrace and deepen their work around social emotional learning, and building a positive school culture and climate. By embedding the social emotional competencies into the curriculum. And by engaging the whole community in solutions.

I have been inspired by the work of one particular network that is focusing on studying ways to “suspend suspensions,” and has brought some great minds to the table around this topic.

Schools are parts of communities and the pathologies of the communities impact the schools. When kids cross the threshold of the school building they do not leave their home and street experiences behind..

Carol Beck was the highly regarded principal of Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York, a school plagued by violence located in the police precinct with one of the highest homicide – hand gun violence rates in the city. When the board designated 21 schools for metal detectors for the 91-92 school year Principal Beck angrily and vehemently argued against the placement in her school – her kids were not criminals and should not be treated as criminals. The day of a visit to the school by the new Mayor, David Dinkins,

Two teen-agers were shot to death at point-blank range in the hallway of a Brooklyn high school yesterday morning, little more than an hour before Mayor David N. Dinkins was to visit the troubled school to tell students they had the power to break free of the world of violence and drugs.

“You have got to learn from this,” Mr. Dinkins, his voice tense, implored several hundred students who were packed into the two-tiered auditorium when he arrived to speak about 70 minutes after the 8:40 A.M. shooting. “You must learn from this. So please help me. Help your principal. Help yourselves.” The youths sat shaken, many holding their heads down in their hands.

The killings came just three months after another student was cut down by gunfire and a teacher critically wounded in the same East New York high school, a brick structure whose immaculate pink halls contrast with the near-desolate landscape of project housing and empty, litter-strewn lots

Since then, students have been screened with metal detectors about once a week in spot security checks intended to weed out the hidden knives and guns that the youths say they carry to protect themselves from street violence — and now violence in the school. Their grim neighborhood, which they described as a terrifying turf of night gun fire and drug deals, had the second-highest homicide rate in the city in 1990.

There were no metal detectors in use yesterday, despite the Mayor’s impending arrival. The detectors were to have been used Tuesday, the original date for the Mayor’s appearance. But the principal, Carol A. Burt-Beck, had asked that the security check be postponed because it would set the wrong mood, school officials said.

Standing up for her kids, not allowing metal detectors stigmatize her kids led to the death of three of her students.

Almost twenty-five years later in the same police precinct homicide – handgun violence rates lead the city.

Our first obligation is to keep kids safe and to create an environment that fosters learning, an environment that is frequently at variance with the environment in the streets surrounding the school.

I was meeting with a group of principals in a co-located building and the conversation turned to kids wandering the halls and fights. For a few of the principals the answer was to suspend more kids, I asked,

“Do you talk to the gang leaders?”

One of the principals, hostilely, “Why would I do that?”

I blurted, “Because they run the building.”

Gangs are a reality, when I hear a principal say s/he’s going to rid the building of gangs I figure they’ll be as successful as we were in ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban. Kids belong to gangs, their older siblings belong to gangs and their parents belonged to gangs.

A principal in school in the same neighborhood tells me, “I chat with my gang kids every day, glean the gossip, what’s going on, they tell me what happened outside of school and I know which kids to approach at the beginning of the day, and when to alert the precinct. My kids know there is no excuse for misbehaving in school and bad conduct has consequences.”

An arm over a kid’s shoulder, a stern look, a harsh reprimand, a phone call home, and, sometimes, a suspension, or, a call to the precinct, some principals have the skill to use the right intervention for each situation, and, others, don’t, and, may never have the skills.

As I entered a middle school the first thing I noticed was the number of kids wandering the halls, never a good sign. The principal, who had gone through a Restorative Justice training program, stopped two kids who were especially boisterous, engaged them in a lengthy conversation, she asked why they were in the halls, how they were feeling, suggested they speak with the counselor, and sent them on the way. I noticed a school aide standing in the hall. I asked her whether this the principal’s approach worked, she scoffed, “The kids eat her up alive.”

Grades on standardized tests determine student, teacher, principal and school success or failure. It was not surprising that the ATR pool was stuffed with over 200 guidance counselors; inexperienced principals used dollars for extended school days or Saturday tutoring programs ignoring the socio-emotional needs of kids. Schools are complex cultures, raging hormones in middle schools, proto-adults in high schools and elementary school kids often too hungry to do schoolwork or shuffled from house to house or simply plopped in front of a TV screen for hours every day or cared for by a sibling only a few years older.

Streets are dangerous places, the wrong comment, the wrong glance, the wrong “he said, she said,” can easily lead to retribution – your protection – your gang brothers and sisters.

It would be wonderful for a school to have psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors and nurses to work with kids and families, it would be wonderful to have principals who set and enforce rules across an entire school. Reducing suspensions is meaningless without other means of creating a culture of order and discipline. Kids are really, really smart, they have been manipulating the system for years: the cop, the social worker, the guidance counselor and the teacher. Some schools, some school leaders have the skills to change the game – to begin to turn kids’ lives around; unfortunately too few school leaders have the skills.

I worry that in the name of progress we will reduce suspensions, reduce the use of scanning and revisit the death of students at Thomas Jefferson.

The road to you know where is paved with good intentions.

How Can the Democrats Build a Coalition to Win the November Midterms: Fire Arne

President Obama is in trouble, real trouble.

Each and every day in the House and the Senate the single goal of the Republicans is to damage the Democrats and increase their chances of maintaining control of the House and winning control of the Senate, and, the Democrats are worried, they should be.

Nate Silver, in his FiveThirtyEight blog predicts,

When FiveThirtyEight last issued a U.S. Senate forecast way back in July — we concluded the race for Senate control was a toss-up. That was a little ahead of the conventional wisdom at the time, which characterized the Democrats as vulnerable but more likely than not to retain the chamber.

Our new forecast goes a half-step further: We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber.

If the Republicans seize control of the Senate they will begin to undo six years of Obama legislation – beginning with the Affordable Care Act and working through worker rights, social issues and appointing as many conservative justices as possible. Six years of an Obama administration can be undone in his last two years, as well as setting the stage for the 2016 presidential election.

The policymakers, the Harvard and Yale graduates are at the top of the policy junta. From education to healthcare to the environment and energy policy the intellectual “elites” design policies. How do we assure that every American has affordable healthcare? How do we reduce and/or eliminate poverty? How do we save the environment? How do we improve the economy, reduce unemployment, and lessen income inequality? How do we both secure our borders and create a path to citizenship for the undocumented? How do we improve education for all students?

The next level is the policy implementers, the bureaucrats who steer the regulations and legislation through the maze of government into actual implementation.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committe (DCCC) are in full campaign mode with six months until November elections.

Motivating the core, fundraising, building an army of foot soldiers, expanding social media, all preparing for that Tuesday in November.

Outside of the loop, or more accurately on the edge of the loop are the strategists, the guys and gals on the ground that actually run campaigns, for a fee.

SKDKnickerbocker, Pitta Bishop Del Giorno, Red Horse Strategies, there are scores of firms, some regional, others national, some only work for Republicans or Democrats while others will work across the political spectrum.

John Del Cecato at AKPD Media crafted the “Dante” TV commercial that is credited with pushing Bill de Blasio’s campaign ahead of the pack of candidates.

Browse a directory of consulting firms here

There are frequently tensions between the policymakers and the folks that actually run campaigns. Bill de Blasio ran a brilliant campaign, beginning as a lightly regarded much too liberal candidate and besting the favorites Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson and avoiding a runoff. The brilliance of the campaign has not transferred into the first few months of his mayoralty, the glow of victory has worn off, and there whispers are a one-term mayor.

If I were invited to a meeting of policymakers, strategists and consulting firms I would advise:

“In 2008 and 2012 new voters, Afro-Americans, women, LGTs, millennials and progressives across the age spectrum; a coalition that came together only for the elections; in 2010, the midterms, the coalition never came together; the Republicans seized the House and eroded the Democratic majority in the Senate. Are we doing anything differently in 2014?

Will the 2008 and 2012 new voters come back to the polls? Have we motivated the core constituency? Not only is the answer “no,” we have lost voters in the middle.

The Affordable Care Act has become Obamacare, a tarnished plan that has motivated the Republicans and the uncommitted. Will the eight million who signed up for the Affordable Care Act vote in 2014? Will they vote for Democrats? The rollout of the Affordable Care Act was a disaster, an avoidable disaster, a disaster that could cost seats in the Senate. A disaster that is not remediable.

Another bubbling disaster is the Common Core and the alienation of teachers.

There are three million teachers: they vote, they get involved in campaigns, they man phone banks, they knock on doors, they are respected in their communities, they were key players in 2008 and 2012, and Arne Duncan has driven them away from the administration.

Whether the Common Core and Race to the Top are disasters or wonderful is irrelevant. Teachers and increasing numbers of parents perceive them as disasters. A Republican Congress will dismantle the Obama education policies and Democrats will join them.

I hear the policymakers and strategists argue that progressives and teachers have no other place to go, after all Republican policy is anathema. They are shortsighted, the alternative is staying at home, not to volunteer, not to contribute to campaigns, to walk away from involvement.

There is one action that would motivate and invigorate teachers and progressive voters.

Fire Arne Duncan (and select a highly regarded career educator).

I know, I know, he’s Barrack’s best bud, he’s a homeboy, the President would never consider dumping Arne.

If the Republicans control Congress the President will spend his last two years vetoing bill after bill and trying to convince other Democrats not to vote to override his veto – with only limited success. The Republicans and the Democrats will be in full 2016 election mode and you better believe the President will not only be irrelevant, he will attacked by his own party.

For six years Arne Duncan has skillfully evaded Congress, he has created a circle of loyal supporters: governors and corporate leaders, an elite intelligentsia that has distanced themselves from teachers and parents. On one hand Duncan consistently repeats a mantra, “education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century;” on the ground, in classrooms, in living rooms, electeds in state legislators and in Congress, have moved from suspicion to outright opposition.

David Tyack and Larry Cuban, in their seminal study of school reforms, “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” (1997) tell us,

We do not believe in educational Phoenixes and we do not think the system is in ashes … we suggest thst reformers take a broader view of the aims that should guide public education and focus on ways to improve instruction from inside out rather than top down … Reforms should be designed by educators working together to take advantage of their knowledge of their own diverse students and communities and supporting each other in new ways of teaching. It is especially important to engage the understanding and support of parents and the public when reforms challenge cultural beliefs about what a ‘real school’ should be and do.

Duncan has lost the confidence of teachers and parents.

The President has to fire Arne now and change the path of education, or, remain loyal to his best friend and watch the Congress reverse his education policies.

I fear the policymakers will prevail; the President will stay the course, remain loyal, and watch his legacy crumble.

I don’t know how to resolve Ukraine, or Syria, or the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, I’m pretty good at winning elections.

A choice: three million teachers with feet on the ground or sitting at home marking papers.”

And I don’t charge a million dollars for my advice.