Tag Archives: Brownsville

The Next 94: Why Can’t We Repair/Assist/Support Schools Before We Have to Reconstruct Them?

For the last two decades or so the State Education Department (SED) has been “identifying” struggling schools. The acronym has changed, the charade has been the same; the SED sends a team into a low achieving school, the team writes a report, the school closes or continues on life support.

Back in the SURR (Schools Under Registration Review) days a team that included representatives from the teacher and supervisor unions spent four days perusing reams of data, observing most classes and interviewing everyone we could find. The SURR Guide directed the team to explore 21 different areas, and, in a “Findings and Recommendations” format laid out a path to success.

Unfortunately in too many instances our “investigation” was an autopsy, the only way the school could survive was resurrection,and, that hasn’t happened too many times!

At the end of each year the SED compiled a summary of the reports, the similarity from report to report was depressing; lack of support at the district and school level, polite but critical comments about teacher quality, inadequate materials, inconsistent or an absence of professional development, etc.

Today the state identifies Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA), Priority and Focus schools, 700 schools across the state, visiting the schools using the Diagnostic Tool to assess the school.

See Power Point of Diagnostic Tool: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/January2014/P12DTSDE.pdf

Regent Cashin asked a SED staff member a question: “I hear it takes a school many months to receive the report of the state visit, how long does it take?”

SED staffer: “It has been a problem, we’re aiming at a 60-day turnaround time” (Eduspeak for it takes a lot longer than 60 days)

The SED requires school districts to take direct action to assist schools at the bottom of the list.

Chancellor Farina named 94 low performing schools and outlined, in broad strokes, a School Renewal Plan, a three-year reprieve for the schools, with a caveat,

Officials had already warned the 94 schools in the turnaround program that if they do not achieve certain improvement goals after three years of intensive support, they could be combined with other schools, split into smaller academies, or closed. But Fariña made clear … that she was eyeing schools with very few students as potential targets of consolidation.

Interestingly the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School issued a report, A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools, not surprisingly, there is an overlap among the 94 Renewal Schools and the neighborhoods identified in the Report,.

The report, identifies 130 [elementary] schools in which more than one-third of the children were chronically absent for five years in a row. Perhaps not surprisingly, these schools have very low levels of academic achievement … Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty—high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, and male unemployment and low levels parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard to schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of school with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading—and most scored far below, the report states.

The report identifies 18 “risk factors” that are associated with chronic absenteeism, both in the school building and in the surrounding neighborhood. Schools with a very high “risk load” are likely to suffer from poor attendance.

Why did the Department wait so long to identify struggling schools and offer targeted assistance?

Schools do not change from high achieving to low achieving overnight, tell me the neighborhood and I’ll make a pretty accurate guess about the achievement level of the school. The Chancellor’s District scooped up the lowest achieving schools and showed progress, the problem was when the schools were returned to their original districts the gains eroded. The Chancellor’s District was a “one-size fits all” plan that did not create sustainability.

Let me ask a simple question: Why don’t we intervene/assist at the first signs of difficulty?

The current superintendent/network dichotomy does not allow for targeted help. One of the strengths of the Chancellor’s District and Region 5 (Brownsville, East New York, South Jamaica and Rockaway) was the use of UFT Teacher Centers. Consistent, on-site, high quality, teacher-friendly professional development located in your school, and, the ability of teacher centers to collaborate across schools is an enormous asset.

Under the regional structure each region had all non-instructional services (guidance, social workers, attendance, health, community-based organizations) clustered within an organization called Student Placement, Youth, Family Support Service (SPYFSS). The structure was a community school structure at the regional level. When Klein dumped the regions he abolished SPYFSS – one of his worst decisions.

Suggestions for Chancellor Farina and her team:

* cluster schools in the highest poverty neighborhoods, schools with the highest “poverty risk load,” into expanded geographic areas.

* Create a SPYFSS-type organization for each of the expanded geographic areas.

* Outside of the school budget assign the “high poverty risk load” schools a guidance counselor(s) and a social worker(s)

* Establish a District Leadership Team which includes union representatives and community organizations.

* An advisory council made up of experts, from colleges or think tanks to review the district, collect data, analyze progress, and conduct actionable research.

And, of course, assign a leader with skills in the teaching/learning, socio-emotional and management domains.

To wait until schools are on life support helps no one, in fact, it is a waste of resources; it is a never ending cycle. Creating structures with the ability to both reflect and have access to expert advice, to create structures in which a wide range of social services are at hand, to be part of an action research project that assesses programs and outcomes in real time.

With the right structures School Renewal Plans would be unnecessary.

Only One Dog per Hydrant: Cuomo and de Blasio Battle for Power – 4-Year Olds May Be the Victims

Bill de Blasio ran a brilliant campaign for mayor, a textbook campaign, a motto: “A Tale of Two Cities” and two policies, stop and frisk and universal pre-K. Mayor Bloomberg had already sharply curtailed the number of police “stop and frisks,” one of the core campaign issues was resolved prior to Election Day.

The number of street stops under the police department’s heavily criticized stop-and-frisk tactic has plummeted 80 percent in recent months compared with the same time last year, (11/8/13)

The pre-K plan – a pre-kindergarten class in every public school and an after-school program in high poverty at-risk middle schools, the funding was embedded in the “A Tale of Two Cities” mantra – tax the rich, at least the richer, a small increase in taxes for earners of over $500,000 a year. The campaign rhetoric was reality,

“There are some who whisper that our drive to tax the wealthy to fund pre-K and after-school is just political posturing — an effort to heap scorn on the wealthy to win an election,” Mr. de Blasio told lawmakers at a hearing on the state budget, “But the election in New York City is over,” the mayor added, “and we are here to work with our leaders in Albany to govern.”

Within weeks of his inauguration deB released a 14-page plan laying out how the city could have classes ready by the fall.

In New York State all taxes are set by the legislature in Albany including local sales and income taxes. A heavily democratic Assembly, a democratic Governor and a Senate with shared leadership – if pressure could be brought on the republican leader, Dean Skelos, the new mayor’s two core policies would be in place – a sharp decrease in stop and frisk and universal pre-K. The campaign began: endorsement after endorsement, community organizations, business leaders, faith-based leaders, the momentum was building.

Surprisingly, the democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, not only had doubts, he had his own plan, to phase in a voluntary pre-K program across the state with funding in the state budget.

“I know the ‘tale of two cities’ the answer to the tale of two cities is not to create two states,” Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview blasting de Blasio’s plan to hike city income taxes on the rich to pay for universal pre-K classes within the five boroughs. “The answer to inequity and inequality is not to create more inequity and inequality,” Cuomo added.

The two elephants began to fight, An African proverb: when elephants fight the grass gets trampled.

Bill de Blasio appeared to be a long shot in the NYC mayoral stampede: the favorite, Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the City Council, John Liu, the NYC Comptroller, Bill Thompson, the former Comptroller, who was outspent by 10:1, came within five percentage points in the 2009 mayoral election. de Blasio was a City Council member from Brownstone Brooklyn and the NYC Public Advocate. The pundits dismissed de Blasio, too far to the left, no citywide appeal, there was no way he could end up in the top two and make it into the runoff – clearly no candidate had any chance of accumulating 40% of the primary vote.

John Liu was dragged down by rumors of campaign funding improprieties, Christine Quinn too close to Bloomberg and Bill Thompson too “wishy-washy,” running too safe a campaign. de Blasio attracted voters from across the spectrum, white and black, in Manhattan and the boroughs; he garnered 40% of the primary vote and swept away his republican opponent in the November general election.

Eliot Spitzer, a hard-charging governor shouldered aside all opposition, resigned after his prostitution escapades, his successor, stumbled badly and Andrew Cuomo was catapulted into office. Secretive, bullying, demanding and extraordinarily popular Cuomo has carefully burnished his reputation. Socially liberal Cuomo piloted a marriage equity law through the legislature, in education a teacher-evaluation plan supported by the NYC teacher union and fiscally conservative, a statewide property tax cap, lowering business taxes, supporting increases in the number of casinos, and advocating for low tax economic zones in high unemployment regions, environmentally suspicious of hydraulic fracking and increasing and protecting state park lands. In an era of politician approval ratings in the 20% to 30% range Cuomo’s favorable ratings remained inconceivably above 60%.

Hillary Clinton is the presumed 2016 democratic presidential candidate, however, if Hillary does not run – then whom? Vice President Biden, California Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Elizabeth Warren, or, a number of governors, why not Andrew Cuomo?

There is only room for one elephant in the state, or, more coarsely, only one dog per hydrant.

Derailing the deB pre-k plan both weakens a rising elephant and adds to the Cuomo resume as a fiscal conservative, opposing the ultra-liberal mayor.

deB can either do battle with the incumbent lord of the castle or pay homage, swear an oath of fealty to the occupant of the Albany executive mansion.

The governor avers, “The answer to inequity and inequality is not to create more inequity and inequality,” if so, why does he continue to support one of the most unfair, the most unequal education funding formula in the nation?

Bruce Baker, an economics professor at Rutgers University and the author of the school finance 101 blog skewers the funding formula. The difference between the high wealth and low wealth districts are staggering. The high wealth districts spend many, many thousands more dollars per student, have more music and art courses/programs, more Advanced Placement classes, more elective subjects, lower class sizes, by every measurement high wealth districts provide more elaborate educational programs. High wealth district have more psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors and nurses, the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, with each year more and more districts are slipping in the “stress’ category, rising expenses and declining revenues.

The governor’s budget would continue and add to the inequality, offering funding for universal pre-k classes when districts cannot afford full day kindergartens.

The Lord of the Manor has to keep his vassals in line.

If we want to break the cycle of poverty universal pre-k is a step, however, we have to start as early as possible:

• Workshops for expectant and new mothers in neighborhood schools.
• Workshops for caregivers and toddlers, once again, in neighborhood schools.
• Pre-school beginning at age 3
• A Community School model: a wide range of school-based social services
• Linkages to job training, housing placements and employment
• GED (TASC) opportunities located in the community, preferably the neighborhood school.

Unfortunately the road to the White House doesn’t trek through communities of poverty. Creating a persona that matches potential voters leads through middle class suburbs, not through Brownsville or East New York.

Than again, Louis XVI did lose his head.

The Common Core Wars: Why Are the Left and the Right Both Attacking and Defending the Common Core?

The Common Core (CCSS) is under attack from the left and the right, and being rigorously defended, from the left and the right – perhaps one of the few bi-partisan issues on the table, attack and defense from both sides at the same time!

The Tea Party Republicans and the Libertarians attack the CCSS as a plot to take over the minds of America’s youth as well as supporting vouchers, charter schools and the elimination of any federal role in education. They are joined by opponents of charters, supporters of increased federal aid for the poorest schools, Diane Ravitch, while “agnostic” on the Common Core links to anti CCSS sites. Governors, the business community and AFT President Randi Weingarten support CCSS.

Why have the standards evoked such passions across the political spectrum?

I see the standards as aspirational goals – skills that we want to students to master at each grade level. In crafting units and lessons, in designing rubrics we embed the CCSS in each unit and lesson. As kids move through the grades we hope that kids begin to achieve the CCSS goals.

Unfortunately the Common Core at the federal and state level is viewed as a “test,” kids and teachers who are winners or losers.

To what purpose?

Will the specter of doom, being “left back,” being branded a failure, being threatened with dismissal make kids and teachers work harder or smarter?

While I believe the standards are a tool for teachers the use of the standards to hold a scimitar over the heads of students, teachers and principals is obnoxious.

The grades 6-8 Social Studies Common Core State Standards (below) are guides to teachers – it would be nice if both the state and the city published “clickable” curriculum on the EngageNY website – it is unfathomable that the state designs tests without providing teachers with curriculum,

I have no problem with the standards; they set a high bar, as teachers we must figure out how to help our students reach higher.

Key Ideas and Details
• Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
• Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
• Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Craft and Structure
• Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
• Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
• Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
• Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
• Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
• By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently

Social Studies teachers I meet see the standards above as rigorous, and as a guide, a focus for their lessons.

Unfortunately the state has not provided the principals and teachers with materials or training or the time to feel confident in moving up the bar.

The commissioner may gloat that the state has spent at $1.5 billion to train teachers; the dollars were not well spent. When the majority of teachers admit that they are not equipped to fully implement the standards isn’t that an indictment of the state-sponsored training? See Report by Michael Casserly, Council of Great City Schools at Steinhardt/NYU in February, 2013.

The state carefully managed establishing cut scores that guaranteed “pass” rates in the 30% range – are 70% of students in New York State “failing”? Of course not. (Read a description of the Person-Regent Fellows management of the cut score-setting process, BTW, that process appears to exclude actual classroom teachers)

When asked to go along with other states, and AFT President Weingarten, and place a moratorium on the impact of the test scores the commissioner refused.

It is the commissioner who is failing – not the students.

He has shown an abysmal lack of leadership.

Eric Nadelstern, the former chief academic officer in New York City wrote in a blog comment,

The easy way for Albany to lead is to make the tests harder and then point fingers. The real work takes place in hundreds of thousands of classrooms throughout the State where teachers interact with students each day. To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests. Unfortunately, that would require bold and effective leaders at a time when such individuals are as rare in education and politics as unicorns.

So the student assessments get harder, the teacher evaluations grow more complicated, and the leadership declares victory and seeks higher office.

Eric is absolutely correct, “To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests”

New York City has provided networks and principals with excellent guidance; however, the network system is incapable of carrying out the “Instructional Expectations” set by Tweed. (Read the Citywide Instructional Expectation: 2013-14 document – it is excellent)

At the heart of the Instructional Expectations is instruction – the interaction of supervisors and teachers in improving instructional practice,

Frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers

… educators learn best from professional development that is embedded in their everyday work. For teachers, this means learning experiences delivered by the school leaders who are most knowledgeable about their skills and experiences. School-based learning experiences that engage teachers in professional conversations with their peers and administrators about high-quality teaching foster both a professional community and shared learning and support.

In the real world the best of plans go awry.

Cluster and network leaders, for the most part, do not have the skills to work with principals and teachers. Ask a teacher to identify their network; they have no idea, ask a teacher to identify their network leader, again, no idea.

“Frequent classroom observations” is viewed as harassment in a climate where the mayor spends his time attacking the union and the union fights back.

Unfortunately the union is in a fight-first mode, it is difficult for the union to defend principals who are actually using frequent classroom observation to improve instruction.

What is so distressing is that the commissioner, who is viewed so negatively by the folks in the field, the folks who actually man schools and classrooms, moves further and further away from practitioners.

If the commissioner simply said:

* The first year is a moratorium year – the tests will only be used to for diagnostic purposes and to set a baseline.

* in year two the test will be used to measure growth – not to measure whether the student has achieved the Common Core standards.

I was at a birthday party for a little girl, everyone was having a wonderful time, and a number of the attendees were teachers in Brownsville. A balloon burst with a loud “pop,” someone joked, “Makes us feel right at home.” Everyone laughed.

I’m not being sarcastic; not being retributive, just a suggestion, maybe the commissioner and his family should move into Brownsville for a couple of weeks.

Brownsville and Manhattan: A Tale of Two Cities, Thirty Minutes and a Continent Apart

The early morning mist shrouded the East River bridges as I pedaled along the riverside bike-jogging path. I cruised past the tracks and ball fields, kids with private school uniforms were running sprints. Asian older folk were engaged in yoga under the Manhattan Bridge, the fisherman were casting for whatever fish ply the murky waters and as I approached the Battery the ferries dumped boatload after boatload from Brooklyn onto the shores of Manhattan. In the Union Square Farmers’ Market chefs clad in their whites perused the produce plucked from the vines hours before and fish fresh from the briny deep. I fill my backpack and pass shiny new buildings where million dollar plus condos are the norm. The new bike-share racks are already filled with brightly colored two-wheelers.

Life is good in Manhattan.

Brownsville is a half hour drive from the glittering streets of Manhattan. Once the landing place for immigrants moving out of the Lower East Side, the streets were packed with kids, the cacophony of languages and the aroma of ethnic cooking. In the postwar years the attraction of the suburbs drew immigrants and their children to Long Island and the migration out of the South changed the neighborhood from Southern and Eastern Europeans to Afro-Americans with roots in the South.

Fiscal crisis after crisis battered the city, housing deteriorated, schools were packed, and slowly jobs began to migrate around the world. The crack epidemic devastated neighborhoods, the “Bronx burned,” and other neighborhood suffered the same fate.

Finally, in the nineties Brownsville started to recover – new housing, the streets were cleaned up, small business began to return, schools were getting better – and “bubble burst.”

The recession of 2008 was a depression for the poorest neighborhoods – foreclosures, unemployment sky rocketed and the hardscrabble communities in the city slid back in the depths of despair.

We wove our way through Brownsville, the streets were virtually deserted, boarded up and abandoned buildings, empty rubble-filled lots, and an eerily silent.

A kid wearing a hoodie was slowly cruising down the street on a very nice bike.

“Wait till he passes,” said my passenger, a long time Brownsville educator, “… these days you gotta be careful. He may be a gang kid patrolling his turf.”

My educator passenger tells me, “During the crack years the gangs were highly organized and they battled over business, now there are cliques within gangs, crips fight crips, bloods fight bloods, teenagers, young teenagers, fight over turf, guns are commonplace, a sign of pride and importance, every kid needs a cell phone, the fights, the violence jumps out of a Facebook post or a video clip, parents and grandparents have gang connections. This neighborhood has a lot more in common with Afghanistan than Manhattan.”

“We used be a school district with a superintendent, we met with teachers and supervisors from neighboring schools, now, we’re in different networks, I never meet my counterpart two blocks away. The charter schools snatch up the families with social capital and chase away the kids who aren’t making it. We get a steady flow of charter school pushouts.”

Sadly, the range of city social services are fragmented, programs come and go, a phone call from a city agency, meetings, more meetings, planning sessions, a program begins with little support, stumbles and fades away. City agencies rarely coordinate services; the only constant partner is the local police precinct.

A frustrated principal told me he challenged a Tweed bureaucrat, “Spend a week in our school, walk the walk instead of telling us what will work, show us,”

He agreed to spend three days in the school.

“It’s a five block walk from the subway, is it safe?” asked the Tweed resident.

The principal jokingly responded, “Just wear the right gang flags – no one will bother you.”

The importantish Tweed apparachnick just couldn’t find the time.

Will the new mayor acknowledge that the Brownsvilles of the city exist?

The teacher union emphasis on community schools, clustering a wide range of health and social services within a school building is a beginning. The funding for the community schools did not come from the mayor, did not come from the department, the funding came from the City Council and private sector (Trinity-Wall Street was a major supporter).

Fifty years ago Michael Harrington wrote “The Other America,” frighteningly not much has changed.

…. tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human decency.� If these people are not starving, they are hungry, and sometimes fat with hunger, for that is what cheap foods do.� They are without adequate housing and education and medical care. (1962)

The Bloomberg policies of school closings and choice and charter schools may resonate in the aeries of the reform think tanks and the hedge funds market reformers, the life on the mean streets is unchanged.

David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core movement, at a recent Roosevelt Institute function called the problems of poverty “intractable” and with a snide ignorant comment,

“Those who believe that poverty is an insurmountable obstacle to improving student achievement should offer to cut teacher salaries and redistribute those funds to the poor.”

The anchor of poverty can be lessened by excellence in instructional practices, but not eliminated.

With the proper structures in place, a chancellor working with not battling the unions, superintendents leading principals and teachers in collaborative school environments, parents welcomed into schools, nothing dramatic but antithetical to everything we have seen for the last dozen years.

The next mayor must understand that no matter how thoughtful his/her educational policies without jobs, without a light at the end of the line, all school initiatives will founder.

The recent teenage immigrant riots in Sweden warn us that unless we create a route to employment we may be facing the same poverty issues for the next fifty years.

Before the bike-share program comes to Brownsville we could use supermarkets and employers.

Read wonderful The Nation “Resurrecting Brownsville” article by Ginia Bellafonte (http://www.thenation.com/article/173886/resurrecting-brownsville)