Tag Archives: Board of Regents

The (Maryland) Kirwan Commission: Is It Time for New York State to Investigate Changing School Funding Formulas As Well As Educational Governance and Priorities?

A month to go until the New York State budget will be approved and a core part of the budget is school aid.

New York State leads the nation, by far, in per capita funding, is at the top of the list for most disparate funding within the state, and NAEP scores  are flat and “perform significantly lower than national scores.”

The governor has noted the disparities time and time again; however, the school funding system in New York State remains unchanged. About 2/3 of funding comes from local property taxes and 1/3 from state funding, primarily through the Foundation Aid Formula.  The Foundation Aid Formula dispenses state budget dollars in order to ease the disparity between high wealth/high tax and low wealth/low tax districts.

Over the last month the legislature has held hearing on the state budget, the state commissioner, the unions, school districts, schools boards and advocates all advocating for more dollars. The Board of Regents and the legislature budget priorities and the governor’s proposals are far apart.

The former leader of the Citizen’s Budget Commission is sharply critical of the school aid funding process,

 Every district and its legislators will fervently argue that more school aid is needed, that its schools are underfunded, and that its students will suffer serious harm if more money isn’t devoted to them as soon as possible. But in fact, the vast majority of New York’s schools are generously funded, while our results in terms of achievement are only mediocre. Instead of targeting additional aid to the few truly needy districts, all are given more.

 Aside from the funding formula another question is how school districts distribute the funds to schools within the districts,

… the Rockefeller Institute of Government found that the poorest schools in New York City get 12 percent less per student than the wealthiest schools. In Buffalo, the poorest schools received 26 percent less per student than the richest schools. Cuomo called the current school funding formula a “scam”…  “You gave money to the poorer district, but they didn’t give it to the poorer schools,” he sai

Additionaaly, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decsion has not been fully implemented and the governor casts aside the billions “owed” to state schools.

In spite of the threats and chest pounding in both houses of the legislature sometime late on March 31st and into the early morning of April 1st the legislature will pass a budget.

Does the New York State need a major reform of the education funding process along with the management structure and educational priorities?

The Kirwan Commission has spent the last two years crafting a proposal to restructure the education system in the state of Maryland.

The 243-page interim report of the Commission calls for,

INCREASED BASE AND WEIGHTS The Commission must increase its base amount of funding per pupil and the weights for special populations must remain high enough to address the additional resources and services needed to educate students in Maryland schools.

 UNIVERSAL PRE-K There must be funding to provide access to high quality, childhood programing/prekindergarten for 4 year olds and (low income) 3 year olds.

 POVERTY PROXY The Commission must adopt an efficient and effective way to count low-income students, such as direct certification with a multiplier, in order to properly direct funding and resources to the schools with greater need. Any additional form is burdensome and counter-productive.

 MULTIPLICATIVE WEALTH CALCULATION The multiplicative wealth measure will provide a more accurate reflection of a jurisdictions ability to pay, it results in state and local contribution targets that ensure all students receive the same funding across the state.

 ADDRESS CONCENTRATED POVERTY The Commission recommendations must include resources to combat the negative impacts of poverty on school communities, which could be in the form of an additional weight or an escalator that provides additional funding for schools at a certain threshold of poverty

 There are many other recommendations, and, the full implementation would greatly increase the cost of education in Maryland, the report does not address how the state would raise the needed dollars. Additionally a third of the commission members appended “individual statements,” sometimes called, “Yes, But …” or “reservations.

The members of the commission include many of the power brokers in the state from across the political spectrum.

I have no idea whether the Maryland governor and legislature will implement the recommendations.

In New York State, in spite of the “strurm und drang” the education budget passes each year without significant changes – the “rich get richer” and the “poor get poorer.” To maintain their new majority in the Senate the newly elected Democrats are likely to advocate just as hard as their Republican predecessors to maintain the current inequitable funding formula.

In addition, are the 700 school districts with elected school boards and 700 collective bargaining agreements the most efficient and effective way to manage the 4400 schools in the state?  Very few school districts have ever merged. Maybe the very local decision-making process best serves the needs of schools; on the other hand, perhaps, the system is an ineffective anachronism.

Is the current Board of Regents, selected by joint meeting of the legislature the most effective governance structure? Or, should education policy makers be apart from governatorial politics?

I don’t know any of the answers: is it time for a commission, selected by the governor and the legislature, with a staff, with totally transparent meetings and full public input?

The Kirwan Commission conducted fifteen full day meetings over two years, and, the interim report is far from implementation.

New York State will continue to spend significant dollars, and spend the dollars inequitably, and, there are no guarantees that the dollars are well-spent.

Perhaps its time to find a path to a better education system.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the news release [PDF]

Read the complaint [PDF]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week’s Albany Regent Meeting should be  interesting.

How Do You Choose a New Chancellor for the NYC School System …? Is a Jesus-Moses-Muhammad-Gandhi-like Chancellor Waiting in the Wings?

The New York Yankees decided to have an open procedure in the search for a new manager. The candidates were publicly announced and met the press immediately after the interview. The media debated the candidates and the decision was widely applauded. The New York Mets held their interviews in-house, no announcements of candidates and announced the new manager with fanfare, again, a popular choice.

 At a press conference, de Blasio said he has already begun a national search to replace Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who formally announced her retirement on Thursday. He emphasized that he is not looking for someone to shake things up but rather wants someone who will follow through on the course that he and Fariña set out. He also committed to hiring an educator, an important criteria for the mayor when he chose Fariña that set him apart from the previous administration.

 The mayor said he plans to select a new chancellor in the next few months ….  He gave little information about the search process, saying only that it will be an internal, quiet decision.

 If the plan is to hire “someone who will follow through on the course that [de Blasio] and Fariña set out,” why a nationwide search, select from among the deputy chancellors, Dorita Gibson, Phil Weinberg, or from among the members of the Board of Regents who were highly effective superintendents, Regents Chin, Cashin, Rosa or Young? In the 90’s three chancellor’s, Cortines, Green and Crew, from across the nation stumbled.

Unspecified insiders paint a different picture of the mayor/chancellor relationship, the NY Daily News reports,

… behind the door … insiders have said de Blasio has been growing impatient with Farina’s inability to communicate his education agenda to the public.

“De Blasio thinks the schools are doing great,” said one Education Department official who requested anonymous. “He can’t understand why he gets negative coverage and pushback over things like school safety.”

Farina, in a self-assessment, looking over her four years mused,

“The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system,” Fariña said.

 The speculation was that Carmen would stay a year or two, and de Blasio would select the “big name,” the new leader; Carmen surprised the sages.

Why wasn’t “the message” getting out? If you look at the pieces of data emerging from schools: higher graduation rates, jumps in test scores, Universal Pre-K, 3 for All;  De Blasio can’t understand the negative coverage from the Post, the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, the Manhattan Institute and a host of blog sites.

 Marshall McLuhan is famous for the phrase, “the medium is the message,” and the LcLuhan website explains,

… the message of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. A McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing.

The same can be said for de Blasio himself, in spite of historically low homicide rates, improvements in quality of life, a thriving economy, the negative side, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, transit woes dominate the news.

De Blasio, in person, has an electric personality, charming, engaged, a wonderful public speaker. I was at an annual Christmas season community event a few weeks ago. The hundreds in the diverse crowd were local folks with their kids to see the Christmas lights turned on: Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, Trish James, the Public Advocate and the Mayor spoke, de Blasio charmed the crowd. In September I attended a community Town Hall, de Blasio interacting with a community, hosted by the City Counsel member. For a few hours de Blasio answered questions, knowledgeable, accessible, and seemingly caring about each and every story or complaint.

Yet the press hammers away, at press availability de Blasio is uncomfortable, snarky, why are they asking me about the “bad stuff” and not the “good stuff?”

Charming in person and not able to enunciate a message across the city.

Cuomo, on the other hand, only meets with the public and the press at carefully controlled events with questions limited to the single topic. I can’t remember an open press conference.  Cuomo reads speeches, issues press releases, stands on a stage surrounded by acolytes to announce this or that; the other end of the spectrum from de Blasio.

Aloof in person, effectively sends a message: I am in charge, I am the your leader.

Trump meets the nation through tweets, and campaign rallies, he is at the center, whether you like him or not he is the center of attention, he is the imperial and imperious president.,

We have moved from the era of the presser, from print media to the era of social media, an era of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, podcasts, websites; the New York Times has more online subscribers than hard print purchasers.

The number one “quality” of a new Chancellor should be the ability to communicate, to carry the message.

The substance might be less important than the message.

The current Farina education menu is a la carte. There are dozens, maybe scores, of “new initiatives,” the administration has tossed dollars and “programs” at criticism and perceived “problems.”  On the left hand column the “problem,” in the middle column the programmatic response, on the right side the cost, check off and move on to the next issue.  The old Board of Education was once described as a mass of silly putty, you could stick your finger in and change the shape with ease; however, slowly but surely the lump regained its amorphous shape.

I occasionally call a teacher in a Renewal School to catch up on what’s happening in her school: lots of meetings, lots people floating through, lots of data collection, and lots of confusion.

Me: “Do they ask for feedback, do they ask you for suggestions, do they follow through on teacher ideas?”

Teacher: “Not really, we’re polite, we listen, we try and implement the instructional changes, the new programs seem to be in conflict with other programs, it’s frustrating and depressing.”

I speak with a principal: “A cluster of schools, mine included, was getting significant dollars from a grant, the superintendent asked for ideas, we carefully researched, eventually the program was announced, none of our ideas made the cut, the programs were disconnected, it was chaotic, every program wanted a piece of our kids.”

On the state level the Rosa/Elia team has learned the lesson.

Former Commissioner John King “declared” change after change, call them reform after reform, with most of the Regents rubber stamping, and, defending each and every “reform.” Whether or not the reforms had merit faded as opposition to King increased. King became the message, not the value or lack thereof of the reforms.

Chancellor Rosa and Commissioner Elia have “included” the immediate world. Task forces, work groups, gatherings all over the state, at times a seemingly tedious and overly lengthy process resulting in this initiative or that initiative.  The message: we want to involve you, all of you, we will listen, and you’re “in the tent.”

The move from the Common Core to the Next Generation Standards garnered thousands of online comments, endless meetings across the state; I attended a meeting in Brooklyn with over 100 teachers interacting with city and state staffers. I attended a meeting at the union with a few Regents members and a number of math teachers who served on one of the task forces.

The Next Generation Standards were adopted with minimal opposition. Are they “better” than the Common Core standards? I have no idea, the message was clear: everyone will have their opportunity to participate in the change process.

In New York City the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the central board meetings are poorly attended, the Community Education Councils (CEC), the local school boards, have numerous unfilled slots and, once again, the people on the stage outnumber the people in the audience.

The message is clear, you don’t really count, we’re doing what we think is the right path.

Carmen was the right person at the right time, replacing an administration that thrived on chaos and confrontation. Some of the Bloomberg/Klein initiatives had disastrous consequences (Open Market transfers allowing teachers to hop from school to school setting up a steady drain of teachers away from the lowest achieving schools) to others that made perfect sense (a longer school day, time for professional development and sharply higher wages) and to some that are debatable (school closing and new school creation). Eventually the public came to the conclusion, polling data confirms,  we trust teachers more than the mayor to create education policy.

The Farina policies lack coherence; for example, there is no New York City curriculum. Carmen likes programs devised by Lucy Calkins and Lucy West, and some superintendents force principals to use the programs, others abhor the programs. The answer to why there is no curriculum has been “we’re working on it.”  Increasingly curriculum is seen to be at the core of improved outcomes.

David Steiner, former New York State Chancellor, writes, ,

An education system without an effective instructional core is like a car without a working engine: It can’t fulfill its function. No matter how much energy and money we spend working on systemic issues – school choice, funding, assessments, accountability, and the like – not one of these policies educates children. That is done only through curriculum and teachers: the material we teach and how effectively we teach it.

Why has it taken four years to address the school diversity issue? The controversy around school segregation began with a research paper from The Civil Right Project at UCLA,

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.

The Farina administration tarried, the pressure to create a school integration plan in New York came from two members of the City Council and a number of advocacy organizations, Carmen finally created a plan that has been criticized by the advocates and electeds.

To make matters more complex, a recent research paper from the Metro Center at NYU, “Separate But Unequal: Comparing Achievement in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools,” finds only modest differences and makes a range of other policy recommendations.

Analysis of 2015-16 achievement data suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools. Third and eighth grade students attending the most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.

In addition, students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools (68.8 percent versus 66.5 percent)

The report includes recommendations for stimulating diversity, expanding opportunity, and interrupting segregation in New York City schools, including challenging “opportunity monopolies,” such as specialized high schools, that only provide privileges to certain groups of students. The researchers also recommend recruiting and retaining teachers of color and hiring from the beginning culturally competent educators.

Did you know the Department has an Office of Equity and Access?  Once again the Department has spun out initiative after initiative, press release after press release, with considerable backslapping. Will the meetings of the newly appointed School Diversity Group be live streamed? Will there be a website for public comments?

Do principals, teachers, advocates and New Yorkers in general, have an opportunity to participate in the policy creation process?  Sadly, no, the gulf between those who work in schools and those who lead the school system is wide. The gulf between advocates and school district leadership continues to be disturbing; it is often confrontational rather than cooperative and collegial.

The chancellor proudly announces she has visited 400 schools; however, her visits are preceded by schools scrambling to put on the right face, new bulletin boards, tighter discipline, etc. The team spends an hour or so and moves on and the school breathes a sigh of relief.

The union contract contains a consultation requirement,

The community or high school superintendent shall meet and consult once a month during the school year with representatives of the Union on matters of educational policy and development and on other matters of mutual concern.

 In my union representative days my district had a different spin, the superintendent met monthly with all the school union reps in addition to the principals and parent leaders, Prior to the Albany legislative session the superintendent hosted a meeting of all the electeds, the District Leadership Team and all the parents associations to discuss district budgetary needs.

The teacher union reps were part of the leadership process – the message from the district to the teacher leaders – we respect and welcome your views, your participation. We created active and participatory school and district leadership teams, the school teams created bylaws with specific conflict resolution guidelines. The district leadership team, the superintendent, principals and teachers, responded to intra-school conflicts.

The district created a diversity plan; over a thousand Afro-American students from overcrowded schools were bused to underutilized all-white schools at the other end of the district. It only occurred because the entire community was included in every step of the process.

In a prior post I suggested that the new chancellor, a Jesus-Moses-Mohammad-Gandhi-like person, might be difficult to identify;  I’m not a fan of the candidates on the Eva Moskowitz list, New York City has a unique culture; I am a fan of including key stakeholders (unions, etc.) on a search team, and I hope the process does not drag on for months.

The Department has always been a paramilitary organization, the general, aka, chancellor, makes a decision, superintendents and principals salute and the orders trickle down to classroom teachers, the soldiers, who nod politely, close their doors and do what they think is best.  Occasionally a superintendent or a principal, or, an island of schools creates truly collaborative worlds; they are the exception and struggle to survive.

We need a chancellor, a leader, who can communicate, who is respected; would principals, teachers, parents and advocates agree with the reflections of the current chancellor? “The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system.”

When you think of the Department do the words “dignity,” “joy” and “trust” resonate?

 I hope the mayor can find this incredible personage who can change the Department of Education from a reactive organization to a creative organization, from an organization attempting to pacify critics to an organization that truly finds a path to include diverse views, to an organization whose message is “you are part of the process,” whose outcomes lead to better outcomes for students and families.

Rule # 1 of personal and organization change: participation reduces resistance.

Should New York State End Regents Exams? Can Authentic Assessments Replace the Regents? Or, Will We Diminish the Value of a Diploma?

If you meet anyone who went to high school in New York State I’m sure they’ll remember Regents tests; they’ve been around since the 1870’s.  The Regents were intended for college-bound students; most students left high school and moved onto jobs that allowed them to live a middle class life; jobs, good jobs, were plentiful, commonly union jobs with fair pay and benefits.

In the high achieving school in which I taught only a quarter of students bothered to earn a Regents diploma, three-quarters of the kids earned a local diploma, the requirement, the 9th grade level Regents Competency Test, the RCT, and the accompanying diploma referred to as the RCT diploma. Today we would call the system multiple pathways.

By the mid-nineties the world of work had changed, a college degree was essential for a job. After a few years of discussion the Board of Regents moved to a single Regents diploma system, the RCT diploma was phased out. The plan, originally scheduled to take five years took a decade.

John King was appointed state commissioner,  the state won a  $700 million Race to the Top grant, and, adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Failure rates on the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents increased and the state decided to “scale’ the scores; currently students can receive a passing grade with fewer than half correct answers The state plan was to increase the number of correct answers to achieve a passing grade over time; it hasn’t been happening.

Unless student grades on the Algebra 1 exam increase graduation rates may be impacted, See “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Algebra 1 Regents Exam Threaten NYC’s Graduation Rates? (2015).

If you haven’t seen Regents exams recently look at the Global Studies here and the English here.

Click and try the Regents  ….  How’d you do?

The June, 2016 New York State rate graduation rate was 80%, the glass half full, the graduation rates keep edging up, the glass half empty, one in five kids fails to graduate in four years; six percent have dropped out and twelve percent are still registered in school. Although more kids are graduating more kids are not prepared for college and must take remedial courses in college.

The Board of Regents have been creating additional pathways to graduation,  4 + 1, CDOS, the “safety net” for students with disabilities, the re-scoring option, all part of multiples pathways to graduation options .

The members of the board and the commissioner are beginning to ask whether the emphasis on passing examinations is the best measurement of college and career readiness.

At the October Regents Meeting the members began to explore a move away from Regents exams. The commissioner set forth “potential goals,”

  • Prepare students for 21st century post secondary options, for example, Baccalaureate :programs in STEM, Humanities and Arts, Technical degree programs, Career training certificate programs, Adult education programs leading to certifications, Military service, Employment
  • Offer more flexibility in completing credit requirements, relevant pathway choice and student interest
  • Expand external certification assessment options
  • Allow students to demonstrate proficiency in multiple ways.

And the commissioner when on to list questions: called “Key Considerations”

  • How do we ensure that all students including students with disabilities and English language learners are able to access rigorous coursework?
  • Should students have the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in a specific area of graduation through a district designed Capstone project?

 The commissioner could appoint a “blue ribbon” commission, experts, who could review the literature, ask for public input and submit recommendations, or, appoint a regents work group who would work with state education staff to draft a plan.

New York State is one of only seven states that requires exit exams, on the other hand critics defend regents exams; every school should meet the same standards, the same exams. The NY Post, the Manhattan Institute and others on the conservative side might accuse the commissioner and the chancellor of eroding the quality of a diploma.

On the other hand the opt-out parents would applaud, one in five students in the state opts-out of state tests and on Long Island more than half of families opt-out. Opting out of regents exams is not an option.

Daniel Koretz, a leading expert on testing has soured on the emphasis on test-based accountability.

High-stakes tests. Lots of them. And that has become a major problem. Daniel Koretz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on educational testing, argues in The Testing Charade that the whole idea of test-based accountability has failed—it has increasingly become an end in itself, harming students and corrupting the very ideals of teaching. 

Are alternative methods of measuring accountability, such as a portfolio of student work, a viable alternative?

The state of Vermont tried to move to a portfolio system which it abandoned; rater reliability was poor.

 A report analyzing Vermont’s pioneering assessment system has found severe problems with it and raised serious questions about alternative forms of assessment.

The Vermont system, which is being closely watched by educators around the country, is the first statewide assessment program to measure student achievement in part on the basis of portfolios.

 But the report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low …

 … the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

“If you’re not rating reliably, you’re not rating,” he said. “You can’t measure anything unless you measure it reliably.”

 Can the state move backwards, to a dual testing, dual diploma system aimed at improving graduation rates for students with disabilities and English language learners?

The state ESSA plan does not include this option.

The commissioner did endorse district-based Capstone projects.

Capstone projects are an excellent example of authentic assessment; at the college level a project might require an entire term to prepare.

The following comes from a partial description of the requirements of a college Capstone project

Capstone Expectations:

The capstone marks the culmination of the student’s studies. Accordingly, the topic selected should require application of a broad range of the skills and knowledge … The final paper must reflect thorough research, analysis, critical thinking and clear writing.

Capstone Content:

  • The topic students choose must be one they develop and work on independently.
  • The paper must showcase a deep understanding of an area….
  • The finished capstone must be a minimum of xx pages and include: an abstract; a background statement; a literature review; objectives; an analysis of existing research; an original analysis of the … challenges; opportunities, threats and possible solutions, critical and thoughtful conclusions; along with a bibliography, charts and any necessary illustrations.
  • The paper may contain primary research, ….Alternatively and more commonly, students may write their paper based on an analysis of secondary research. This approach may include a secondary data analysis or other specified metrics plan.
  • All secondary research must be attributed throughout the paper and in the bibliography.

This is a significant project: the commissioner suggests a “district-designed Capstone project,” how can we assure rater reliability in 770 school districts?

The commissioner and the regents are beginning a long journey with no clear outcome. Students pass courses and fail regents exams: should the failure prevent a student from graduating?  Should one three-hour exam determine graduation? On the other hand bar exams determine who becomes a lawyer; civil service exams determine who becomes a police officer or fire fighter.

I look forward to a deep discussion with experts and public participation and, I would recommend that the state hold hearings around the state.

Are we too wedded to Regents tests?

Are we jumping on a reform wave which may diminish a diploma?

Can/should we change the nature of instruction from the current modality to an authentic, project-based educational modality?

What do you think?

“Evening the Playing Field:” Will the ESSA Accountability Plan Acknowledge the Work of Teachers in “Truly Disadvantaged” Schools? Will the plan be “Equitable?”

A teacher: “We love our kids and love to teach in this school, we make a difference in the lives of our kids. Our kids are poor, really poor, some live in shelters, others in foster care, trauma is part of their daily lives. We’re building out our community school, we prepare our kids to learn by feeding them, by searching for contributions of clothes, and, make our classes as rich as possible. I wanted to take my class on a series of trips out of the neighborhood, my principal said wait till after the tests, the future of our school depends on six days of testing, it’s sad that no one cares about the social and emotional needs of our kids, needs that precede the ability to learn. We just want an even playing field.”

In some school districts kids come into school knowing their letter and number facts, in other schools it’s  their first exposure; kids are behind from day 1.

In “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987)” sociologist William Julius Wilson details how programs across the political spectrum have failed the underclass, he is sharply critical of conservative and liberal policies.

Wilson posits social isolation–a distinction which shifts the problem from the psychological to the socio-economic realm. Instead of blaming poverty and its associated pathologies primarily on the individual, as conservatives do, or on the effects of contemporary racism, as some liberal scholars do, Wilson calls for a “refocused liberal perspective” which emphasizes “the dynamic interplay between ghetto-specific cultural characteristics and social and economic opportunities.”

Thirty years later our society, and especially our schools are even more segregated.

The result is islands of poverty, what Wilson called the “truly disadvantaged,” whose children enter school far behind other children.  The Harvard Education Letter writes,

  • According to a seminal 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, 3-year-olds whose parents are professionals have vocabularies that are 50 percent larger than those of children from working-class families, and twice as large as children whose families receive welfare.
  • “We could eliminate at least half, and probably more, of the black-white test score gap at the end of twelfth grade by eliminating the differences that exist before children enter first grade.”
  • In a 2002 study, Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkam of the University of Michigan found that at kindergarten entry, cognitive scores of children in the highest socioeconomic group were 60 percent higher than those of the lowest group.

From the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law up to our current iteration, the Every Student Succeeds Act administrations across the political landscape have tried to legislate equity. Previous leadership of education in New York State jumped on Common Core State Standards and testing: the unintended consequence, a massive opt-out movement primarily among middle class white parents.

The current Board of Regents, led by Chancellor Betty Rosa is a newer board. Former superintendents and teachers, a judge, a doctor, an attorney. a parent activist, a range that crosses the spectrum of experience and background.  The board is attempting to create, as required by the ESSA law, a new school accountability system that goes beyond test scores. The new law requires grades 3 – 8 tests in ELA and Math but does not limit the accountability system to test scores.

The process of building a new accountability system has been transparent. Scores of open, facilitated meetings, a think tank made up of stakeholders and hours upon hours of open meetings with national experts Linda-Darling Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, the Center for Assessment.

Your correspondent has sat through them all.

This past Tuesday a three hour plus session with Darling-Hammond and Marion tele-communicating with the board. It was crunch time, decisions had to be made.

You can check out nine presentations here.

Or, check on the individual power points/reports below:

Status of Development of ESSA Plan

Promoting Diversity – Integration in New York State

Considerations for the New York State Assessment System

Models for State Performance Assessment Systems

Building an Accountability and Assessment system Under ESSA

Putting It All Together – Annual Differentiation Under ESSA

I know parents and teachers ask: why do we need state tests? The answer is simple: the law requires that each state include state tests in any school accountability system and the system must identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools.

If you’re going to go beyond test scores what would you add?

You can add other indicators: for example, growth, the increase in scores from year to year, you could add counting subgroups differently, you could add chronic absenteeism, maybe other items. Additionally you can weight the indicators: for example ELA and Math scores could count 30% each, growth can count 20%, other items 5% or 10% resulting in a cumulative score.

Think in terms of a dashboard with the indicators across the top and the levels down the vertical column. Do you use satisfactory, unsatisfactory, levels 1 to 4, ineffective, developing, effective highly effective? Do schools receive an overall numerical score? a letter grade? How do you identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools?

One of regents members asked if there was a “scientific” method of making these determinations. Scott Marion explained these were subjective decisions, capturing stakeholder values, for weighting indicators is a subjective decision. Marion explained that subjective is not a negative; Marion discussed “credible  defensibility,” making value-based decisions that reflected the experiences of the members..

After extensive discussion the members agreed on a weighted dashboard. The first draft will be released at the May regents meeting, public comments, meetings around the state, submitted to the governor and submission to the feds in September.

Colorado has completed and submitted a dashboard plan that goes beyond test scores: read a description of the plan here.

Hopefully, maybe, the changing of the metrics will “even the playing field” for the “truly disadvantaged.”

The next steps will be to begin to explore alternative assessments, aka authentic assessments. Vermont and New Hampshire involved in pilots; however, the path is long and complex, and to quote Robert Frost,

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The New, Feisty Board of Regents Explores Principal Preparation: Why Don’t We Have Better Principals?

[Election Update: Yuh Line Niou won the six-way primary in Shelly Silver’s former district as well as all other Ed in the Apple endorsed candidates with the exception of Robert Jackson; however, the Bloomberg/Charter candidate, Micah Lasher lost to a candidate supported by the Independent Democratic Coalition – the breakaway gang of five that caucuses with the Republicans]

The new Board of Regents is a feisty group!!

The Board is a policy board; they hire the CEO, the commissioner, and set overall policy for the state. The line between what is policy and what are operations is a blurred line: a prime example.

In December the Regents voted to accept the 21 recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force on the Common Core.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized test aligned to the standards.

A month later the Department announced a shift to untimed tests;  the “formal review” apparently did not involve the Board.

Initially the Commissioner was ecstatic over the unparalleled one year jump in test scores, until the Chancellor, Betty Rosa tuned down the exuberance.  Without knowing which students took extended time the state has set a new baseline, there can be no valid comparisons – you cannot compare apples to oranges. The Regents members were clearly unhappy – why weren’t they involved in the “formal review?”

Under the leadership of Chancellor Tisch and John King, with a few exceptions, the Board was quiescent.

The current members are activists, in order to create policy they clearly intend to take a deep dive into the issue. A prime example: the four exams required for teacher certification. The co-chairs of the Higher Education Committee have held forums all over the state, hundreds of college staff, and degree seekers, have attended and testified. The Board is leading the steps to reconfigure the teacher preparation process that was imposed by Tisch/King.

No longer does the Chancellor and the Commissioner run the show. Chancellor Rosa epitomizes collaborating with her Regent partners.

The September 12th Regents Meeting began with a detailed exploration of a new grant from the Wallace Foundation:  the Principal Preparation Project. In prior years the project would have landed with the Regents Research Fellows with a nary a word of discussion with the Regents members. The world has changed.

After a Power Point presentation the new Board peppered the Deputy Commissioner with questions;

Regent Johnson mused over the purpose of the project.  We must acknowledge the impact of poverty, issues of race and changing demographics. Why weren’t Civil Rights organizations on the team? Regent Mead was concerned over the three years of teaching as a minimum requirement – New York City has a seven year requirement. Regent Norwood was wondering why social/emotional issues appeared absent from the project as well as working in diverse environments, and, the retention of leaders in low performing schools were absent. Regent Brown was concerned with the absence of diversity concerns in the project, should issues of race, i. e., “white privilege” and “cultural competency,” be included in project curriculum?

The discussion went on and on….

In order to become a principal in New York State the applicant must complete an “approved” program; however, the selection is by the elected lay school board, or, in New York City, by the Chancellor; all the state does is create an applicant pool.

A little history:

The first wave of reform swept the nation after the Civil War and culminated in the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 – establishing a federal civil service system. The reform movement moved to the states, and, after the creation of New York City (“The Great Consolidation”), the merging of the five boroughs, the legislature moved to reform a political hiring system, by creating a Board of Examiners.

Read a history of principal selection here: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/the-quest-for-the-leadership-gene-how-do-we-findselect-the-best-school-leaders/

From rigorous examinations to a handful of credits and selection by elected Community School Boards to the Leadership Academy, we haven’t found any magic bullets.

Half-jokingly, I mused that maybe there was a leadership gene. Maybe I’m right!

… a quarter of the observed variation in leadership behaviour between individuals can be explained by genes passed down from their parents. – See more at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0113/15012013-leadership-genetics#sthash.Nmnip8lR.dpuf

If you ask teachers about supervisor competence you will find a wide variability, some praise school leaders, many more are critical.  An NYU Study a few years ago, using student scores on state exams as a measurement: insignificant differences between Leadership Academy and non-Leadership Academy principals.

I have a few questions:

* What percentages of applicants are accepted into leadership programs? Is the quality of the applicant’s teaching part of the applicant selection process, and, if so, how do you measure the quality? (I fear programs accept the vast percentage of applicants)

* Are online or blended learning courses acceptable? Are these courses of the same quality as face-to-face courses?

* How often does the supervising teacher visit the candidate? Four times a year? Weekly? What is the quality of the internship? How is it measured?

* What percentage of candidates find jobs within five years? How successful are the candidates as supervisors and how do we measure success?

The finest leadership I have seen is the leadership provided by coaches, whether athletic, music or dance.

The ultimate question: is this project worthwhile?  Since the state does not hire or supervise principals can changing the requirements actually change who gets hired?  Do we have to change the “hirers” before we can change the “hirees”?

Looking ahead: every state must comply with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and design a state plan -more about the process in my next post.