Tag Archives: Board of Regents

Why I Support Keeping New York State Regents Examinations.

If you attended public high school in New York State you undoubtedly took regents examinations, tests that go back to the 1865 (See a history of regents examinations here) While the test format has changed over the years the current tests are content-based tests created by classroom teachers.

For decades the state offered a Regents diploma for college-bound students and a local diploma for others that required passing a far less difficult Regents Competency Test (RCT). After years of discussion, sparked by criticism of the limited skills required of RCT diploma graduates from the employer community, the state phased in a single Regents diploma in the mid-1990’s in an attempt to raise the skills of high school students, aka, to make them more college and career ready. (Admittedly a difficult to define term: more in future blogs)

Tests are used to assess student learning and to guide instruction; in order to change outputs you must change inputs. I was invited to sit in on a meeting in a public secondary school: Algebra 1 teachers had completed grading the regents exam and created an error matrix, the most common incorrect answers. The teachers were reviewing their own lesson plans: how could they change their lessons to more effectively address the underlying instructional issues?

Over my teaching career I “cut and pasted” questions from prior regents exams, a common practice. The questions are created by classroom teachers and reflect the state curriculum frameworks.

The New York State Social Studies K-12 Frameworks were created by teachers under the guidance of the State Education Department and revised every couple of years.

The Social Studies regents exams consist of fifty artfully crafted multiple choice questions, a document-based question and a thematic question.

Yes, forty small high schools, mostly in New York City, called the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium are designed so that the instruction leads to the creation of a portfolio and a year-long research project

Students must complete graduation-level written tasks and oral presentations, known as PBATs (performance-based assessment tasks), including an analytic essay on literature, a social studies research paper, an extended or original science experiment, and problem-solving at higher levels of mathematics. Students must also take and pass the NYS English Language Arts Regents exam. Schools may add on additional tasks, for example, in the creative arts, foreign language, and supervised internships.

 I have visited PBAC schools many times; however, in the vast percentage of high schools teachers teach five periods a day with about 30 kids per class – 150 kids: schools would have to be totally redesigned to fit the Consortium Model.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) polled members over their attitudes about Regents Exams,

More than two-thirds think all students should continue to be provided with the opportunity to take Regents exams, even if students are not required to pass Regents exams to graduate.

More than half said there should be a statewide test like a Regents exam to determine proficiency in a specific subject.

Respondents were split when asked if the current number of required Regents exams is on target. Forty-nine percent said it’s the right number; 38 percent said there are too many; and 8 percent weren’t sure.

Let’s look at a recent American History regents question; the thematic essay on the last American History and Government exam; below is a question we would expect all students to be able to answer.

————————————————————————————————————

Directions: Write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs addressing the task below, and a conclusion.

Theme: Amendments

The writers of the United States Constitution included an amending process to respond to changing times and unforeseen circumstances. Since the Civil War, important amendments have had an impact on the United States and/or on American society.

Task: Select two amendments to the United States Constitution since the Civil War and for each

  • Describe the historical circumstances surrounding the adoption of the amendment
  • Discuss the impact of this amendment on the United States and/or on American society

You may use any constitutional amendment that has been added since the Civil War.

Some suggestions you might wish to consider include:

13th amendment—abolition of slavery (1865)

18th amendment—Prohibition (1919)

15th amendment—African American male suffrage (1870)

19th amendment—woman’s suffrage (1920)

16th amendment—graduated income tax (1913)

26th amendment—18-year-old vote (1971)

17th amendment—direct election of United States senators (1913)

You are not limited to these suggestions.

Guidelines: In your essay, be sure to:

  • Develop all aspects of the task
  • Support the theme with relevant facts, examples, and details
  • Use a logical and clear plan of organization, including an introduction and a conclusion that are beyond a restatement of the theme.

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State Education Department provides a scorers guide and anchor essays at each scoring level. The American History and Government exam will change in format in June, 2020 and SED explains the changes in minute detail (See here)

I support retaining Regents Examinations.

There are some students who are doing passing work for the entire term and fail the Regents by a few points? To the best of my knowledge the state does not collect this kind of data.

Perhaps SED should consider a safety net to address the situation above.

Currently in spite of passing regents exams, passing the required courses and graduating high schools community college students have poor retention rates.

The most recent three-year graduation rate is 26 percent at State University of New York (SUNYcommunity colleges and 22 percent at City University of New York (CUNY) community colleges. The most recent six-year graduation rate is 32 percent at SUNY community colleges and 33 percent at CUNY community colleges

 An in-depth study of community college completion rates shows rates are stagnant or falling while high school graduation rates are creeping upwards.

The state report does not disaggregate Black students by gender; The Black Boys Report from the Schott Foundation also paints a depressing picture of NYS high school graduation rates.

While graduation rates across the state continue to creep upwards the reason may be the sharp increase in students utilizing the Multiple Pathways option,

This year, school districts reported that more than 13,200 students earned a diploma through one of the new pathways, a 15-percent increase over last year.

 The state has no data on the performance of students using the Multiple Pathways option in college.

A report to the Board of Regents “What Success Looks Like: Key Practices of Unscreened High Schools That Have Dramatically Improved and/or Consistently Surpass the NYS Graduation Rate for Young Men of Color,” points to “Rigorous, Relevant Curricula/High Impact Instruction” as the key to improving outcomes.

While other states are raising the bar for graduation, acknowledging that our schools and students have to increases their knowledge and skills in this rapidly changing world we may be looking in the opposite direction. Yes, too many of our kids live in poverty, in traumatized neighborhoods and suffer from generations of the impact of racism, the “answers” must not be to lower the bar.

The My Bothers Keeper report referenced above shows that with the engaged and collaborative leadership, fully involved teachers, adequate funding and commitment schools can prepare our kids for the world ahead.

Who will become the next NYS Education Commissioner?

The July Board of Regents (BOR) meeting traditionally is a retreat, in the past held at the New York State Museum and other sites. The Board discusses a major topic for the upcoming school year. This year the topic was high school graduation requirements including the required exit exams, the five required Regents Examinations.  The Commissioner gives an update during the meeting. Commissioner Elia shocked the BOR members and the audience announcing she would be resigning effective August 31 to pursue other opportunities.

Elia was an activist commissioner who successfully grappled with creating a New York State Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, a plan that moved from assessing schools solely on proficiency to a mixture of proficiency and growth, in other words, crediting schools with improving student outcomes regardless of their base scores on state tests. Additionally skillfully guided the BOR through the rocky movement from rating teachers on student test scores to removing test scores from principal/teacher evaluations. Other issues were more contentious, increasing student teaching hours, moving away from the four required tests for prospective teachers, and moving from the 180 school day year to the 990 hour school year requirement.

The BOR members, former school superintendents and a number of former teachers are an activist board. Prior boards, non-educators, businessman, etc., acquiesced to the chancellor and the commissioner with only a few members questioning decisions.

Chancellor Rosa, a former New York City superintendent welcomed BOR members to participate in the debate, and the members responded. Debate is vigorous, stakeholders across the state included in work groups and blue ribbon commissions, thousands submitted comments on proposed regulations.

Contentious might be too mild a term, Op Out parents viewed Elia as unsympathetic and urged her to oppose testing more actively.

A major achievement is the New York State commitment to My Brothers’ Keeper, a core piece of the Obama education program.

 With the adoption of the 2016–2017 New York State Budget, New York became the first state to accept the President’s challenge and enacted the My Brother’s Keeper initiative into law. The budget included a $20 million investment in support of the initiative to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.

 New York State has a unique governance structure, a board elected by a combined meeting of both houses of the state legislature – effectively appointed by the speaker of the Assembly. Anyone can apply, open interviews are held and the local Senate/Assembly members make a recommendation to Speaker Heastie who has put forward the name suggested by the local electeds. Under the prior speaker the selection of BOR members was solely the prerogative of the speaker.

The governor plays no role and the education budget is set by the legislature and the governor.

In virtually all other states boards of education are appointed by the governor with consent of the state legislative body and the board selects the commissioner.

Under Chancellor Rosa BOR members have been “partners” with commissioner, partners that vigorously agrees/challenges/debates issues. The SUNY Board of Trustees, approves items with minimal debate. The BOR debate frequently moves from meeting to meeting, posted for public comment, amended, re-posted, the process can be laborious, consensus-building can be an arduous process.

The sudden resignation of the commissioner and the selection of a successor is challenging.

The Boston Globe reported that former deputy commissioner Infante-Green, who became the Rhode Island commissioner in the spring was offered the position, and demurred.

Beth Berlin, not an educator, was the deputy who actually ran the day-to-day operation of the State Education Department, was appointed as acting commissioner, and, some mused that Beth should actually succeed Elia with Rosa and deputy chancellor Brown playing a more activist role.

Berlin also demurred; announcing she would be resigning effective November 15th and moving on to another position.

Long Island superintendents are concerned, very concerned about the exodus of leaders at the State Education Department.

Three months have passed and the commissioner position has yet to be posted. It did take five months to search and hire Elia.

Should the BOR seek a national figure as commissioner to lead New York State? Or, would a national figure clash with an activist board?

Should the BOR select a current or recent senior New York State Superintendent with deep knowledge of the state, without any national credentials?

Does the ethnicity of the commissioner matter? Is it time for a Latinx commissioner?

Should the next commissioner be anti-testing?  Willing to seek alternatives to required grades 3-8 state tests and alternatives to the Regents Exams? Or, will challenging testing also be viewed as challenging federal laws and endanger federal funding?

Should the next commissioner seek more aggressively the transparency of charter schools?

Should the next commissioner lead a Maryland-like Kirwan Commission?

As states around the U.S. grapple with how to improve their educational systems, Maryland is taking an approach that some experts call a blueprint for the whole country.

The state is on the brink of becoming the first in the country to prioritize equitable distribution of funds among school systems — if state leaders can overcome the hurdles of legislative bureaucracy and stay the course.

The state’s so-called Kirwan Commission has put forward a $4 billion education funding proposal that would increase teacher salaries, bring in more counselors, improve career preparation programs, give extra support to schools serving children who live in poverty and expand free, full-day prekindergarten.

And, would Governor Cuomo want a governance structure that mirrors other states and includes gubernatorial appointees?

A challenging role for the BOR members.

Sadly, Regent Judith Johnson has passed away – Judith dedicated her life to fighting for the underserved; at meeting after meeting she reminded her colleagues and the state that New York State was failing the most vulnerable children. The New York State funding formula drives the most dollars to the wealthiest school districts. She was the conscience of the Board.

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?