Tag Archives: Carmen Farina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Russell Sage Foundation writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Dreams, Nightmares, Nausea as the First Day of School Approaches for Teachers

Mother: “Johnny, wake up, you’ll be late to school.”
Johnny: “I don’t want to go – the kids hate me, the teachers hate me.”
Mother: “you have to go – you’re the principal.

What happened to the summer? It seemed like yesterday that teachers were poised on the last day of school. For some, a few days off and teaching summer school – gotta pay off those student loans or pay for the wedding. For others back to school yourself to finish up the college credits needed for certification, and, a few flying off to faraway places – to hike the Himalayas or bike across Europe or taking an intensive Spanish class in Central America.

Eight short weeks later the days are getting shorter and the anxiety begins.

“The last few nights I woke up in a cold sweat – what a vivid dream! I had the lowest teacher evaluation score in the school and the other teachers were laughing at me.”

Another teacher, “I keep stressing out about how my kids did on the state tests – I’ve avoided calling my principal – I’m so nervous and it’s driving me nuts.”

A teacher tells me she wants to file a grievance -the principal changed her room. “I’ve been in the room for six years – it’s my room – s/he can’t do that!!”

As the clock ticks down teachers, all teachers, from the first year rookies to the veterans, the pulse beats more quickly, the stomach churns, you try and think of everything – you want that opening day to be perfect.

Many elementary school teachers were in this week working on their rooms – getting ready for the all- important first day. Other schools are spending a day at a staff retreat – working on curriculum maps.

Principals have been in since Monday – dealing with endless e-requests for this or that “compliance” document.

A principal: “The first email I opened was from a math teacher – she apologized for the late notice – she was leaving for another job – I wished her well, and have been scrambling to find a replacement.” Another principal recounted a call from a probation officer – two kids were being released from incarceration and assigned to his school – he was less than joyful.

Teaching is moments of exaltation and moments of misery.

It’s hard to describe that feeling when a tyke wraps his arms around you and whispers, “I love you.” That moment when the light bulb goes off – the kid’s face lights up as he grasps the concept.

A day later a kid cries all day – a parent left, or, his family had to move, again. Her clothes are scruffy and dirty every day – how do you bring in clothes without embarrassing her or her family?

Each teacher is a tiny peg in the 1.1 million student system – the “powers that be” are interested in the mega-scene – those test scores and graduation rates – as a teacher you are singularly focused on the smiling faces each and every day, as a principal you are part psychologist, part social worker, part coach and part disciplinarian – leading a school community and protecting the staff from the frequent insanities of the Tweed plutocracy.

If you read the press you wonder if the New York City school system is only Universal Pre-K, if you’re in the trenches, it’s the first year without a mayor and chancellor trashing the union and the profession – no “dumb” ideas – a chancellor who actually likes teachers.

We’ll be getting off to a good start … can the system keep up the momentum? … can the chancellor and the union keep working together? can the education community find better school assessment metrics? and, the bottom line: will the “new relationship” lead to better results?

Why is the Chancellor Re-Igniting the Reading Wars? The Best Educational Decisions Are Made by Principals and Teachers at Schools, Not in Washington or Albany or at Tweed Headquarters

For the last four years of the Bloomberg administration teachers, principals and parents disliked and frequently despised the educational bureaucracy; for two decades none of the chancellors had been teachers or school leaders, initiative after initiative seemed to be punitive and ill-conceived.

Board headquarters, Tweed, became a “dirty word;” the deputy chancellors were inexperienced, and the teacher union and advocacy organizations were at war with Gracie Mansion.

The appointment of Carmen Farina, a forty-year veteran who worked her way up the ladder from teacher to deputy chancellor for teaching and learning was greeted with joy. The negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement after five years without a contract, new promotion requirements that gave principal judgment more credence, and visit after visit to schools and meetings with teachers, it seemed to be a new day

It is surprising, and does not auger well, that the chancellor intends to resuscitate her favorite reading program, the Lucy Calkins Teacher College Reading and Writing Project.

To the extent possible educational decisions should be made at schools by principals and teams of teachers, the role of the superintendent and network leader should be to guide and support decisions made at schools.

Decisions made in Washington or Albany are looked upon with suspicion, and, usually fade away. Chancellor Farina and Calkins are close friends, its “uncomfortable” when a friendship drives education policy rather than research-based programs.

In an April article Chalkbeat reports Calkins’ antipathy to the Common Core is evident,

[Calkins] … described a model lesson by Common Core advocate David Coleman where high school students are asked to pore over the three-paragraph Gettysburg Address for several days, parsing the meaning of the individual words and phrases in the speech … “To me, it basically represents horrible teaching,” Calkins said

In a letter to Farina Calkins wrote, “Please, Carmen, protect the Common Core from the documents surrounding it that are people’s interpretations of it.”

But some critics say that parts of Calkins’ approach and the Common Core are incompatible. The prospect that Fariña’s ascension could expand Calkin’s influence over the school system has already unsettled some of them, including New York University education professor Susan Neuman. “I think that’s scary,” Neuman said, “and devastating.”

While you philosophically may support or oppose the Common Core, it does drive state tests and regents examinations.

A few days ago Chancellor Farina announced her intent to increase the number of schools utilizing Calkin’s methodology. The New York Times writes,

… balanced literacy is poised to make a comeback in New York City classrooms. The new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, wants more schools to adopt aspects of balanced literacy, including its emphasis on allowing students to choose many of the books they read.

The city’s Education Department turned away from balanced literacy several years ago amid concerns that it was unstructured and ineffective, particularly for low-income children. And Ms. Fariña is facing sharp resistance from some education experts, who argue that balanced literacy is incompatible with the biggest shift in education today: the Common Core academic standards.

But after several years of experimentation, the department moved away from balanced literacy. School officials grew concerned that students lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to understand books about history and science. In 2012, a study found schools that used balanced literacy lagged behind schools that used a differing approach known as Core Knowledge.

When the city released a list of curriculums it recommended under the Common Core standards last year, it omitted balanced literacy, amid worries that it was not sufficiently comprehensive to be labeled a curriculum.

While there are loyal adherents to the Calkins’ approach, the Columbia Teachers College Teaching and Writing Project, with the retirement of Farina the city abandoned the approach and the state did not include the program in the approved Common Core curriculum, Sol Stern writes,

[Farina] became the DOE’s enforcer, making sure that all teachers in the elementary schools toed the line and implemented Calkins’ constructivist methods for teaching reading and writing. Teachers received a list of “nonnegotiable” guidelines for arranging their classrooms, including such minute details as the requirement that there must be a rug on the floor for students to sit on in the early grades and that nothing but student work be posted on the walls.

Balanced literacy has no track record of raising the academic performance of poor minority children. No independent research study has ever evaluated its methodology.

On one hand we have a new chancellor who is a firm supporter of collaboration, who is advocating sharing successful practices among schools, a chancellor of a school system that just negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that is encouraging schools to go beyond perceived limitations of the contract and department regulations, to experiment and create and innovate, and, a chancellor who wants to reclaim a widely discredited reading program.

Unfortunately it appears that the chancellor is repeating mistakes that are all too commonplace, assuming that a program that we “liked,” or seemed to work for the kids we taught, or is in vogue, should be the approach used for all kids. Principal Farina led PS 6, an elementary school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, an atypical school with a high achieving student body. The vast majority of students in New York City are children of color with parents who struggle in a city of inequality. Decisions as to which program to adopt must be based on sound research, not the whims of school and school district leaders.

School districts jumped on the technology bandwagon. The key to bridging the achievement gap was technology, if we flooded schools with the latest technology; if we taught kids how to use technology as a learning tool we level the playing field. Unfortunately the unintended consequence was to widen the achievement gap,

… the introduction of computers might “level the playing field” for the neighborhoods’ young people, children of “concentrated affluence” and “concentrated poverty.” They undertook their observations in a hopeful frame of mind: “Given the wizardry of these machines and their ability to support children’s self-teaching,” they wondered, “might we begin to see a closing of the opportunity gap?”

“The very tool designed to level the playing field is, in fact, un-leveling it,” … With the spread of educational technology, they predicted, “the not-so-small disparities in skills for children of affluence and children of poverty are about to get even larger.”

While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: It is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.

Mathematics instruction is another arena where there is a sharp divide between the advocates of direct instruction and advocates of a more child-centered, discovery approach, not dissimilar to the Calkins approach,

A recent study supports a direct instruction methodology, especially for struggling learners in first grade classrooms,

Pennsylvania State University researchers Paul L. Morgan and Steve Maczuga and George Farkas of the University of California, Irvine analyzed the use of different types of instruction by 1st grade mathematics teachers, including teacher-directed instruction, such as explicit explanations and practice drills; student-centered, such as small-group projects and open problem-solving; and strategies intended to ground math in real life, such as manipulative toys, calculators, music, and movement activities.

“In general education there’s been more focus on approaches that are student-centered: peers and small groups, cooperative learning activities. What can happen with that for kids with learning difficulties is there are barriers that can interfere with their ability to take advantage of those learning activities. Children with learning disabilities tend to benefit from instruction that is explicit and teacher directed, guided and modeled and also has lots of opportunities for practice.”

Moreover, neither struggling nor regularly achieving math students improved when using manipulatives, calculators, music, or movement strategies; these activities actually decreased student learning in some cases. Ironically, a regression analysis of the classes found teachers became more likely to use these strategies in classes with higher concentrations of students with math difficulties.

Unfortunately too many educators, in colleges and in schools are wedded to a philosophy rather than exploring well-researched, peer vetted methodologies.

Scattered around the city we find successful and ineffective schools, sometimes within blocks of each other and sometimes in the same building. The chancellor intends to “pair” effective and struggling schools hoping the struggling schools can “learn” from the successful schools.

The rage in the nineties was school-based budgeting: I traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, the school district that was the model, sort of the Finland of its day. When I returned I was asked, “Will it work here?” My answer was, “If you bring back the Canadians.” Edmonton was a different culture, highly competent principals working closely with their staffs in schools that had wide discretion over instructional approaches. The supervisors and teachers were in the same union, the district office staff and principals frequently changed jobs, parents were heavily involved in schools, and, the district was generally middle class. Success of a school usually depends on school culture; not reading programs, the success of the school depends on the quality of the school leadership and the quality of the staff – the synergy of leadership plus staff results in excellence. Yes, in high quality, highly effective schools the analysis of instructional approaches, the input that goes into decisions, the process results in the product.

School district leadership should “support” a range of programs with proven records of success. For example Core Knowledge or Success for All or Reading Recovery all have track records, school district leadership should be prepared to support proven programs in schools, not advocate for one program over another. And, if a school is not successful take the lead in selecting programs that suit the needs of the students. Too many school leaders selected under the previous administration lack leadership skills, and, the new guys” will have to retrain or replace the ogres.

Unfortunately “pair-a-school” approach has no research legs. What works in school “A” may fail in school “B.” The chancellor should be asking: what are the qualities of the school leader and the staff? What in the culture of the school results in higher student achievement?

The window is open; we can turnaround the largest school district in the nation, for the chancellor it seems that old habits are hard to unlearn.

I was an invited guest at a school leadership meeting – I forget the issue but after a lengthy discussion the principal jumped in … “I totally disagree with the approach – but – the teachers and parents are clearly committed to it – show me I’m wrong – make it work.”

We need more principals like Jeff Latto.

NYC Teacher Contract Ratified!! The Hard Work Begins, Can the Union and the Mayor Create a Model for Urban Education? or, Is the Contract a Charade?

With over 90,000 union members voting the UFT contracts passed with 77% of the vote.

The applause and back-slapping should be brief.

Polices hatched at the US Department of Education and think tanks have guided educational policy for the Bush and Obama administrations. The bi-partisan No Child Left Behind legislation requires annual high stakes testing and the Race to the Top exchanges dollars for commitments to teacher evaluation, expansion of charter schools, the Common Core, rigorous testing and harsh interventions. We have moved from the constitutional principle, education is reserved to the states (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States …”) to what amounts to a national education policy.

In cities public education is in jeopardy, New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia and Kansas City are moving towards charter school systems. Los Angeles is dysfunctional; in Chicago teachers are at war with their mayor and the school system faces severe deficits.

Teacher labor contracts routinely contain some iteration of pay-for-performance with reductions in tenure rights for teachers.

The New York City teacher contract is the exception – it includes a range of new initiatives to address lingering issues:

* a differentiated staffing plan whereby teachers can move into training positions for additional remuneration.
* a higher pay scale for teachers in “hard-to-staff” schools
* a pathway to the classroom for teachers who have been excessed from closing or over-staffed schools
* the recruitment of up to 200 schools that can modify the union contract to fit the needs of the school.
* expedited procedures for dismissal of teachers accused of serious misconduct.

Sol Stern, a longtime critic-commenter on education, sneers.


But what’s most striking about the “historic” deal is how much it remains the same old, same old. Is this really the best the city can do for students?

Like its predecessor agreements, the new contract undermines excellence in the schools — and thus strengthens the reformers’ critique of resistant-to-change urban public school systems.

200 pages full of mind-numbing bureaucratic restrictions…

It also retains all of the irrational and counterproductive provisions regarding teacher compensation and work schedules. It’s amazing that a so-called labor agreement still gives no clue about how the city — i.e. management — might monitor employee productivity…

The elaborate salary schedule for teachers remains arbitrary, fiscally wasteful and unrelated to the city’s presumed goal of providing children with the most talented and knowledgeable classroom instructors…

De Blasio and Mulgrew tried to put lipstick on this pig by trumpeting a few fancy sounding new initiatives, like the new Ambassador, Model and Master teacher roles — which mostly duplicate the existing role of lead teacher while giving it new titles that sound as if they came from a credit-card company’s marketing wing.

Stern admires Albert Shanker, the former leader of the UFT – sometimes remembered for leading strikes, (see Woody Allen clip from “Sleepers,” and has no confidence in the new school system leadership.

Shanker was an education intellectual who rejected progressive education fads. He supported high academic standards and a coherent, grade-by-grade, content-knowledge curriculum…

… Chancellor Carmen Fariña has already signaled that, despite the lack of evidence supporting their efficacy, the constructivist reading and writing programs her friend Calkins developed will soon be returning to the city’s classrooms.

And the UFT under Mulgrew is not likely to care about what its members teach in the classrooms, as long as the distorted pay scales in the contract are honored.

The highest aspiration of Mayor de Blasio’s political progressivism is to narrow the gaps between the city’s rich and poor. The most salient fact of the educational progressivism favored by Fariña and Calkins is that it has never been able to narrow the academic achievement gaps between children from poor families and those from the middle class.

Someday this contradiction in progressivism will become self-evident. But by then lots more of the city’s poor children will have been left behind.

Former Chancellor Harold Levy disagrees with Stern,


Sol Stern’s critique of the new teachers’ contract (“Failing to learn,” Op-Ed, June 1) undervalues the importance of the changes achieved. It is just unrealistic to think that a single contract will wipe away all of the constraints on management that mayors and chancellors have conceded to union leaders over the years. Change is necessarily incremental.

Most important, in this agreement the City established the proposition that schools can write their own rules – if they get 65% buy-in of their teachers. This is precisely the way to build collegial decision-making, encourage reflective practice and elevate the professionalism of the teaching force. Closer tracking using accountability metrics is losing support among reformers because there’s little evidence that it works. Our real problem in the public schools is that teachers feel disrespected; as a result over 50% leave the profession by their fifth year of teaching. Until some of the changes made by the new contract, we have not even had an effective way to acknowledge the superior competence of truly master teachers.

The sad truth is that with the exception of the Teaching Fellows program, we are still hiring new teachers from the bottom quartile of college graduating classes. That means we are filling a leaky bucket with poorly qualified new recruits … The city’s goal should be to fix the high teacher churn rate and address its inability to hire the brightest college grads, by making teaching more desirable and the profession more respected. We also need a longer school day, shorter summer breaks and more cutting-edge education technology. And all that costs money. Until we make those commitments, however, we are just dealing with footnotes.

The curmudgeonly Stern is a “glass half-empty” guy … he has seen educational fad after fad imposed on teachers and children and one can understand his views; the current contract is just a way to fiddle around the edges and collect dollars for teachers.

The union and the Mayor may have bought four years of labor peace – and four years down the road the Common Core may be gathering dust on a back shelf, and maybe de Blasio’s progressive platform will have successfully addressed the lack of affordable housing, pay inequality, housing and school segregation, and on and on. The contract did buy an ally – the teachers union and its membership will always be keys in any election.

On the other hand if the “innovative” sections of the contract are a charade, if Sol is correct, a mayoral candidate on the right can trash de Blasio and the contract and make the mayor the first one-term mayor since David Dinkins.

The union has a daunting task – to move teachers from passive players – nodding at each edict from on high, doing the best they can in the classroom, to active players, participating in writing curriculum, working closely with colleagues, in essence moving from renters to owners.

The Bloomberg-Klein crowd, for whom Sol has no love created over 200 gifted schools and programs, schools in which principals selected their own students, a two-tier school system. Schools with kids from “better zip codes” flourished while schools in high poverty zip codes were closed. What is so distressing, actually criminal, is the Bloomberg crowd simply ignored what goes on in classrooms – they never asked a simple question: what curriculum works?

The job of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning was eliminated.

Chancellor Farina has resuscitated the position and selected an experienced, highly regarded principal – hopefully to begin turning the ocean liner, the massive million pupil school system in a different direction.

Stern (“The Redemption of E. D. Hirsch” is an avid supporter of E. D; Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum – a content-rich approach to teaching, and, I would not be surprised if Stern and Mulgrew are on the same page!

Moving the debate from charter schools and teacher evaluation to “balanced literacy” versus Core Knowledge is at least changing the dialogue.

If the contract is a trompe d’oeil, an illusion, the Megatron reformer will sweep across the landscape.

I’m a glass half full type of guy – a combination of progressive policies to address poverty, i. e., community schools, combined with reinvigorating teachers and the schools can make a difference.

Can de Blasio turn around the Tea Party, conservative attacks on progressive policies? Is de Blasio really Optimus Prime?

The next four years may set a new national path for urban education, or, the question: which path?

Does deBlasio Need to Rekindle the Reading Wars? Lucy Calkins Re-Ignites the “Whole Language” versus “Phonics” Battles.

As the seemingly endless mayoral campaign plodded from panel to panel it became increasingly clear that candidate de Blasio, on education issues, was the furthermost to the left: he vigorously opposed co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings, he was cool to the idea of charter schools generally, he was openly critical of Eva Moskowitz, while the other candidates didn’t disagree, they were just more “thoughtful” and less didactic.

Four months into his term de Blasio has been battered: his plan for a small tax on earners of over $500,000 a year shot down by the governor and a five million dollar media blitz and $800,000 in contributions to Cuomo resulted in legislation to force co-locations of charter schools – a resounding defeat for the new guy on the block, a defeat engineered by his “friend” in the governor’s Albany mansion.

For the mayor the single issue is Universal Pre-Kindergarten, an immense program with many pitfalls to be averted. Can the department find adequate classroom space? Can the department match seats to needs? Can the department find and train appropriately certified teachers? Can the department stock the classrooms with age-appropriate materials? Can the department and the city link a wide range of social and health services to the kids? A Herculean task and a task that must shine to restore the glitter to the mayor’s image.

Other major initiatives are on hold: the reorganization of the network-based management system, the A-F School Progress Reports, the Choice versus Neighborhood Schools concept, the single goal is to assure that Universal Pre-Kindergarten will be a smashing success.

And then Chancellor Farina announced Lucy was back.

For decades the battle over the teaching of reading, aka, The Reading Wars, have pitted supporters of “whole language” against the supporters of “phonics,” Research Professor Peter Gray in “Freedom to Learn” describes the differing positions,

In teaching reading, the progressive [whole language] educator might focus on ways to help beginners recognize and thereby read whole words from the outset and allow them to figure out or guess at other words from the context (such as from pictures and the meaning of adjacent words), so they are reading for meaning right from the beginning. In contrast, the traditionalist might start with lessons on letter recognition and the relation of letters to sounds (phonics) before moving on to whole words and sentences. The process of reading requires the decoding of letters into sounds, and the traditionalist teaches this process explicitly before becoming concerned with meaning.

Today, the majority (though not all) of the experts who have examined the data have declared that the wars are over—phonics has won. The data seem clear. Overall, children who are taught phonics from the beginning become better readers, sooner, than those who are taught by whole-word or whole-language methods. The learning is still slow and tedious, but not as slow and tedious for phonics learners as for those taught by other methods.

Kathleen Porter-McGee, a widely respected scholar and frequent writer about the teaching of reading also pans the Calkins’ methodology,

Not only is this approach [Lucy Catkins’ Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop] widely used by U.S. educators (for ages it was required by the New York City Department of Education and is still widely used today in Gotham schools), but it is perhaps the most egregious example of a content-free, text-neutral, skills-focused version of reading instruction. Students in such classrooms don’t even have the benefit of reading shared or thoughtfully sequenced texts, let alone a thoughtful, coherent knowledge base.

Joel Klein, an attorney, hired Diana Lamm as his deputy under the initial department reorganization, with ten mega-regional superintendents, Lamm imposed the whole language teaching strategy, after Lamm left Klein promoted Carmen Farina, also a devotee of whole language instruction. Over the years Lucy Calkins trained over 10,000 New York Teachers and her Writing Project received millions of dollars in contracts.

The Reading Wars raged with Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute and Diane Ravitch pitted against Calkins and Farina. A lengthy piece in New York Magazine recounts the battle,

Sol Stern of the conservative Manhattan Institute and the education historian Diane Ravitch berated Balanced Literacy’s whole-language roots. “Many of the programs and methods now being crammed down the teachers’ throats have no record of success,” wrote Stern, “and are particularly ill suited for disadvantaged minority children. In fact, a cabal of progressive educators chose them for ideological reasons, in total disregard of what the scientific evidence says about the most effective teaching methods—particularly in the critically important area of early reading.”

By the spring of 2004, Diana Lam was gone, but Joel Klein went out of his way to defend Balanced Literacy. He promoted Carmen Fariña, a respected Brooklyn superintendent who had used Balanced Literacy as a teacher and principal. Fariña proudly took up the cause.

After Farina left in one of the many leadership shifts Eric Nadelstern took the education helm and the system moved to an affinity network model. Schools could choose their network; “Calkins” schools could cluster in a network, devotees of phonics or other approaches in other networks. With adoption of the Common Core the department recommended methodologies and Calkins was not selected.

With the selection of Farina as chancellor could the resurrection of Calkins be far behind?

Patrick Wall, in Chalkbeat recounts Lucy’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes,

… in January, Calkins’ longtime friend Carmen Fariña, who has called Calkins her mentor, was appointed head of the city school system. The two met privately at the Department of Education headquarters after Fariña became schools chancellor.

Around that time, Calkins wrote to Fariña urging her to resist the curriculum guidelines written by Coleman and his team, Calkins said in her speech.

“Please, Carmen,” Calkins said she appealed to Fariña, “Protect the Common Core from the documents surrounding it, that are people’s interpretations of it.”

Now, Fariña has the power to reimagine the way educators across the city teach reading and writing in the age of the Common Core. Already, the chancellor has promised a top-to-bottom review of the city’s recommended curriculums. And to lead a citywide Common Core literacy training next month, her administration brought in Calkins’ group.

For her part, Calkins seems confident that her group will play a larger role under Chancellor Fariña in helping schools meet the new standards.

“Yes, the city’s moving in our direction,” Calkins said during an interview in February. “Obviously.”

The Reading War has roots in the 1950’s (“Why Johnnie Can’t Read”) and the skirmishes have continued ever since. In spite the reams of critical research whole language instruction continues to stake out a loyal and dedicated following, and an equally vociferous opposition.

As de Blasio struggles to regain his positive public image, as the mayor pumps up support for Universal Pre- Kindergarten, as the laser-like focus of the administration on making sure that pre-kindergarten is a glowing success, does de Blasio need to fan the embers of the Reading Wars?

Fanned embers end up in conflagrations, to raging forest fires, a disaster for an administration looking to find their mojo.

The mayor needs victories, not scrums over how to teach reading.

Farina Negotiates in Public: Is She “Mis-Speaking” or Challenging the Union?

Speaking at a City Council hearing, Chancellor Carmen Fariña was unequivocal that the city would stick with its current policy of not forcing teachers to work in specific schools or principals to accept teachers they don’t want.

“There will be no forced placement of staff,” she told Council members. ”This is one of the things, when I come back in a couple of weeks, we’ll be happy to discuss.”

One of the ironclad rules of negotiations is that you negotiate in private, never in public, unless you want to send a message to the other side. Whether Chancellor Farina was speaking on her own or carrying a message from the de Blasio administration is crucial. After a bargaining session with the Bloomberg/Klein crowd, no matter the confidentiality agreements, you knew the NY Post or the Wall Street Journal, the Murdoch press, would have the story, at least the mayor’s side of the story, before you got back to the office.

Both de Blasio and union leader Mulgrew have answered every question about negotiations with the same answer, “We don’t negotiate in public.” the union has to ask, have the rules changed? Do Farina’s comments mean the mayor is following the Bloomberg/Klein playbook?

The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool is made up of over 1,000 folks with pedagogical titles: teachers, guidance counselors, principals and assistant principals who have been bumped from their schools mosly due to school closings. The lower salaried teachers tend to get absorbed into schools, the higher salaried ATRs not so because they carry their salary under the department’s Weighted Student Funding formula.

For a couple of years the department has supported ATR Field Supervisors who regularly observe and rate ATR performance. A few percent are at the low end of the scale, the vast majority in the middle of the curve.

The ATR system costs the city $100,000,000 a year – dollars that can buy many pre-k and after school slots.

Bloomberg/Klein, and apparently Farina insisted that principals alone should choose all staff. They haven’t done such a good job! Teacher attrition continues to rise and thousands of teachers change schools every year under the Open Market system. Any teacher, regardless of seniority can move to any school – principals in higher achieving schools located in “safer” neighborhoods routinely snatch teachers from lower achieving schools in tougher neighborhoods.

30% to 40% of probationary teachers have their tenure extended, new teacher hired by current principals. There is absolutely no evidence that the current ATR system has better outcomes than simply assigning excess teachers to schools with vacancies.

For decades teachers who were excessed, bumped out of their schools due to loss of enrolment and/or funding, were routinely assigned to other schools.

Is retaining the ATR system worth a hundred million dollars a year?

At the same City Council meeting the chancellor emphasized increasing the number of guidance counselors in school, has anyone told her there are 200 or so counselors in the ATR pool, guidance counselors rotating from school to school on a weekly basis?

The chancellor also spoke to increasing the arts in schools, and hinted at using the punitive School Progress Report, a “stick” to increase arts education. For the last twelve years schools/teachers have been beaten regularly with bad letter grade and school closings – the whip and the cudgel never increase performance.

How about a competitive grant program so that schools can create arts programs?

You get a lot more with candy than with vinegar.

The union and teachers really want to like the chancellor, after all she “one of us.” Mulgrew announced at the delegates meeting that the chancellor will be invited to numerous teacher events. She will be on the stage answering questions from teachers at the breakfast section of the UFT Spring Conference.

The glow of honeymoons rapidly fades away and the reality grabs hold. Teachers want a leader who is both sensitive to the indignities of the past and willing to lead the charge into the future, negotiating a “fair” contract, with appropriate financial remuneration, as well as fixing the insanely complicated and mind-numbing teacher evaluation system. A chancellor who can stand up to Albany and lead the fight to delay the full implementation of Common Core tests, a chancellor who can lead the battle nationally to restructure the insidious impact of No Child Left Behind.

We deserve a chancellor who can stand up to Arne Duncan and the assault on public education. The education system in New York City is frayed by inattention to the needs of children, families and practitioners and being used as a place to experiment, to introduce one “idea” after another that had little to do with teaching and learning.

We need a modern-day Jeanne d’Arc.

“She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honest was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; … she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; … she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation…” Mark Twain, Joan of Arc

Midnight Oils Burn at Tweed as the Rollout of Policies Begin: The Beginning of a Road to the White House?

The midwinter recess is a pause, a week to decompress, to catch a flight and lay on a beach with an adult beverage in hand, sleeping late, reading that pile of books that have been gathering dust, movies, movies, movies, and the nightmare that wakes you up sweating at night, the upcoming state tests.

At Tweed the lights are burning late, Carmen Farina, Tony Shorris, Dorita Gibson, Phil Weinberg and Ursulina Ramirez, the new team, are creating a new Department of Education, a phoenix rising from the ashes, an opportunity, a few brief months to place their stamp, to rebrand sixteen hundred schools and 1.1 million children. An awesome task.

Across the courtyard in City Hall the spinners are working on the media campaign, The Post will savage the decisions, the Eva Moskowitz corps, the Manhattan Institute, the Fordham Institute, even Bill Gates will be plotting how to respond, how to both undercut and derail the initiatives.

Bill de Blasio is bucking the tide, a progressive in an era of rampant conservatism, a mayor who opposes charter schools, committed to public schools, a mayor with one leg in the sixties and one in the future.

The conflict with Governor Cuomo over pre-k will resolve itself – both leaders, the governor of one of the most influential states in the nation and the mayor of Gotham City – the two most powerful politicians in New York State – politicians who need each other.

The co-location of charter schools in public school buildings will only impact a couple of dozen schools; it will also send a ringing message across the political stratosphere. The upcoming reorganization of the school system – networks, geographic districts or a hybrid will impact every school, and only create a ripple.

Charging rent to charter schools will flash around the internet.

The negotiation of the teacher contract can move teacher negotiations in a new direction. The major issues for teachers are back pay – retroactive pay back to November 1, 2009, the expiration of the last contract and “respect.” Will the contract simply increase salary with a few fillips for teachers, or, will the contract move in a new direction? And, if so, what direction?

The highly touted Baltimore teacher contract (2010) replaced step increases, increases based on longevity to increases based on “achievement units,” including teacher evaluations into the salary schedule. The contract was widely praised by Arne Duncan and other reformers and undoubtedly would not fly in New York.

Can de Blasio and UFT President Mulgrew carve out a new path – a de Blasio path – a path not praised by Arne Duncan or Gates, a path in the new urban philosophy addressing the tale of two cities.

Governors and mayors are under the thrall of elitist education reformers, from Arne Duncan to the billionaire faux soothsayers who claim to foretell the future, ignoring inequality, pampering the one tenth of one percent, the widest gap in income since the 1920s, Bill de Blasio stands alone. Over the months, over the years the Mayor of New York can emerge as the leader of a new left, a revival of the tarnished liberal reputation with roots leading back to JFK and Lyndon Johnson.

The route is rocky with gaping potholes, the chancellor and the mayor cannot afford the disaster of the last snowstorm, with snow falling at two inches an hour, with hardy winds blowing, the chancellor blithely chirped,

“It has totally stopped snowing. It’s absolutely a beautiful day out there right now,” she said at a morning news conference in Brooklyn with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Asked to elaborate, Farina said, “Coming down the stairs, the most obvious thing is it stopped snowing. The second thing, it’s getting warmer – which means that theoretically the snow will start melting.”

The mayor cannot afford missteps, cannot afford ridicule – the stakes are too high.

Andrea Elliot was just awarded the prestigious Polk Award for local reporting for the five-part “Invisible Child” – the story of the life of a middle school student living in a homeless shelter frames the de Blasio agenda. The shelter is surrounded by glittering high raise rental and million dollar condominiums. A perfect example of the tale of two cities. Whether de Blasio can build thousands of units of affordable housing is years down the road. Whether he can impact the education of the public school children of the City of New York will be decided in upcoming months.

Big city mayors around the country are under assault, Rahm Emanuel is at war with the Chicago Teachers Union, and the new mayor in Los Angeles has retained the extraordinarily unpopular superintendent of schools, John Deasy.

Don’t think that Bill isn’t thinking about a run for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue down the road – and path begins with education policies … winning over suburban moms and voters of color converts to electoral votes.

An Experienced Teacher Tells the Chancellor: It’s About Instruction, Not Structure

Marc Korashan is a career Special Education teacher, has been an instructor at Brooklyn College, a mentor to First and Second Year Teaching Fellows and a frequent commenter on this blog.

Chancellor Farina’s appointment is a kept promise: she is an educator; however, it needs to be more to truly invigorate the school system. There are many questions that she will have to address to reinvigorate and renew our school system.

This Chancellor knows, as none of the last four did, that education takes place in the classroom, in the relationship between the teacher and the student. The pundits, who were never in a classroom except as a student, will continue, as Ed in the Apple writes, “… to talk about the symbolic issues that grab the headlines, and rarely impact classrooms.” Will the Mayor and new chancellor be able to change the conversation to focus on classrooms and the elements of good teaching that are really central to student success?

The questions that come to mind for me start with whether she will allow teachers to teach the children in front of them even if this means moving away from the “workshop model” and “social engagement” where it isn’t working, to more direct instruction. I know teachers who want to move away from group instruction, it may be more effective to put children in rows and do more direct instruction, but they can’t because administration won’t allow it. Will Chancellor Farina empower these teachers to take the risk to do what they think will work better even where it challenges the Danielson and Klein imposed orthodoxy?

It is so much easier for politicians and pundits to talk about governance than teaching. Teaching is a truly complex activity that can’t be reduced to a formula (or a rubric) that fits all classes, all students, and all situations. Those of us who have spent time in classrooms and have lived with the complexity of trying to teach many individuals at once know this and value seeing teachers who do it well even when they do it in ways we didn’t or wouldn’t have predicted would work. Will the new Chancellor end the lockstep use of the Danielson rubrics or checklists to evaluate teachers who are effective in their own creative ways? Will she champion changes in the Teacher Evaluation (APPR) law and make it truly about improving teaching, retaining good educators and helping those who shouldn’t be in the classroom to recognize that and make a graceful exit?

Will the new Chancellor use the upcoming contract negotiations to revisit the professional periods and the extra time in the school day to make that time available for meaningful professional development activities? Will she hold schools accountable for the quality of the PD and how will she measure the effectiveness?

The Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott era is famous for reorganizing the school bureaucracy many times. Will the Mayor and new Chancellor be able to end the ineffective networks and replace them with a structure that truly supports teachers in classrooms? Will they take steps to ensure that principals cannot, as they do too often now, leave classrooms vacant (on the specious grounds that they can’t find a teacher even though there is a pool of ATRs who need jobs)?

Finally, as a Special Education teacher, I can’t help but wonder if the new Chancellor will take steps to make Special Education a meaningful option for those students who are truly disabled? Will she take steps to make the Alternative High Schools a real alternative for students who need them by finding metrics for evaluating those schools that recognize they must be different from typical high schools? Will she find ways to create CTE programs that work (as CoOp Tech which is being closed to allow for real estate developers to make money did) and create opportunities for students to enter the work force in trades that pay more than minimum wage (welding, HVAC, elevator repair, auto repair, electrical installation, plumbing, etc.)?

These are the questions that the Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott administration failed to address and the answers that the deBlassio/Farina administration comes up with will determine their impact and legacy. This is what the pundits and the press should be watching.

Is New York City Ready to Select a Chancellor in a Post Racial World?

* We’ve elected an Afro-American president – twice.

* A 2012 Gallup Poll reports, “Continuing to represent one of the largest shifts of public opinion in Gallup history, 87% of Americans now favor marriage between blacks and whites, up from 4% in 1958.”

“… the total number of interracially married couples has increased from 0.7% in 1970 to 3.9% in 2010.”

* In the September 2013 mayoral primary white candidate de Blasio and black candidate Thompson each received 42% of the Afro-American vote.

* The Supreme Court, in a number of decisions, sees, “affirmative as increasingly incompatible with the aims of the so-called post-racial age in which a first black president would seem to argue against any more need for racial redress,” writes Harvard professor Randall Kennedy.

Deborah Plummer, a psychologist writing on the Huffington Post “Black Voices ‘, see attitudes re race relations as a process,

A post-racial society is more like a continuous improvement process that requires incremental improvements over time rather than a “breakthrough” improvement that happens all at once as the result of a black American as president. Each one of us has to be involved in the continuous improvement process examining our own attributes and owning our behaviors…

Over the last week mayor-elect de Blasio announced the selection of Tony Shorris as first deputy mayor and Bill Bratton as police commissioner. Both selections were treated positively, with some discomfort over Bratton and whether his views on stop and frisk have mellowed since his days as commissioner in Los Angeles.

The next high profile selection is the chancellor – the leader of the school system. Education was a leading issue as de Blasio clawed his way to victory. He consistently opposed charter schools and co-location of charter schools in public school buildings, suggested charging charter schools rent, opposed the closing of struggling schools, letter-grade report cards and the overbearing testing-testing-testing regimen.

One would hope he would find a chancellor with a history that is congruent with the mayor-elect’s views. The current candidates of color who serve or served as large city school leaders, Kaya Henderson in DC, Barbara Byrd Bennett in Chicago and former supe in Baltimore, Andres Alonso, all followed the Broad Academy/Duncan/Bloomberg game book – charters, school closings, data and testing – all policies that would appear to be antithetical to the de Blasio game book. The selection would undoubted satisfy the NY Urban League and a host of electeds and activists who are demanding the appointment of a person of color to a high profile position in the administration, and, you can’t get much more high profile than chancellor.

Candidates, at least candidates in the press (see Gotham Schools here and the NY Daily News here) that espouse de Blasio’s policies are Josh Starr, superintendent in Montgomery County and Kathleen Cashin, a member of the Board of Regents with a long resume within New York City. Starr, in a high wealth district has been an aggressive opponent of testing, and had a lackluster six years as superintendent in Stamford, Cashin, in her role as a regent, voted against the Principal/Teacher Evaluation Plan and aggressively supports parents and classroom teacher, she was a beloved and highly effective superintendent in the poorest districts in New York City. Carmen Farina, who has been “out of the loop” for years, is a close advisor to de Blasio.

Communities of color seem to me to be far more “post-racial” than white communities. Neighborhoods are deeply ethnic – a friend of mine visiting from another city walked across Brooklyn, she couldn’t believe that Pakistani neighborhoods abutted an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood which nestled up to a Chinese neighborhood and a Caribbean area that led to a Russian community.

“Do they get along?” she asked.

I thought a moment, “Benign neglect,” and much better choices of restaurants.

If you are white you probably live in a white neighborhood with white friends and white work colleagues, if you’re a person of color you probably live in a community of color, however, you probably work in a predominantly white workplace, your kids’ teachers are probably mostly white, as are the local police.

You don’t applaud because the local cop on the beat is black or your daughter’s principal, you make your decisions on the quality of the police officer, the principal and the teacher.

Charles Barron may scream that skin color should be a first priority; parents and community members are far more sophisticated,

Let’s hope that for the sake of parents and kids the mayor-elect believes in a post racial world.

Whispering in de Blasio’s Ear: Running a City Versus Winning an Election: Who is Advising the Mayor Presumptive?

The day after Bill Thompson conceded the folks who ran de Blasio’s campaign packed up their laptops and moved on to the next race. They earned their fees.

600,000 Democratic voters selected a mayor for eight million New Yorkers, the de Blasio team knew how to push the right buttons. The TV commercial featuring his son’s Afro, the constant drumbeat on “stop-and-frisk,” the “tale of two cities” scenario carried the day for the 270,000 voters, the 40.3% who “elected” Bill de Blasio.

With a forty point bulge in the polls Bill de Blasio will be swept to victory on November 5th – his opponent’s chance of winning is about the same as the Mets winning the World Series and the Jets winning the Super Bowl.

The team that won the election is not the team who will run the city and the mayor presumptive is faced with a pre-election dilemma. How does he go about assembling a team that can satisfy his campaign promises? How does he address the long line at the Gracie Mansion door wanting to be paid back for their support?

Bill has to be careful; friends he trusts may not be giving him the professional advice he needs.

In the Carter administration I was having lunch with a “mover and shaker,” a partner in an important law firm that had guided national policy on a wide range of issues – he was bemoaning the selection of Carter’s fellow Georgians as his inner circle.

“This Carter guy told me, ‘You think only the Northeastern elite can run the country, only the Harvard/Yale crowd?’ to be perfectly honest, yes, we are the only ones.” BTW, the nine members of the Supreme Court come from, yes; you guessed it, only Harvard and Yale.

Carter felt “comfortable” with his good old boy pals, and he turned out to be a one- term president.

The two most important appointments to de Blasio’s administration, appointments that will frame his administration will be a new police commissioner and a new chancellor for the school system.

The speculation about the police commissioner was featured in the NY Times,

“For a change-oriented mayor, there’s a benefit to bringing in somebody from the outside,” said Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has discussed policing policy with Mr. de Blasio. “The next police commissioner faces two equally compelling imperatives: first to continue to bring crime down, and second to help the city navigate its way out of the current conundrum about the stop-and-frisk tactics.”

There appear to be a number of highly regarded candidates ranging from Bill Bratton to others both in and out of the current police hierarchy.

On the school front the choice is far more complex, there is no obvious candidate; there are many suitors.

Rumor has it that a former superintendent, Carmen Farina is the “whisperer” in the presumptive mayor’s ear.

A mistake.

Farina had a long career: principal to superintendent to regional superintendent to deputy chancellor, she left under a cloud. (Read details here)

Sources tell parent advocates’ reporters that Ms. Farina placed the daughter of former Brooklyn Technological High School Principal Lee McCaskill in PS 29, a violation of NYC BOE policies (McCaskill lived in New Jersey). Special Investigators were angry with Mr. Klein for permitting Mrs. Farina to retire before she was convicted. Farina, as well as Chancellor Joel Klein, have no contracts with the NYC DOE, and there’s the rub: How Do they get away with this?

While it may be comfortable to sit down with someone you know critical decisions must be made with the advice of the “wise men,” the city fathers (and daughters) who understand both the complexities, the skills required to govern as well as the politics.

De Blasio should listen to Randi Weingarten, Bill Thompson, Dick Parsons, Diane Ravitch, Mathew Goldstein, David Steiner … the best minds in the city.

His high profile campaign pledge, full day pre-kindergarten appears “dead-on-arrival” in Albany. In an election year, all of Albany is up for re-election, the Republicans on the Senate side and the Governor are openly cool to any increase in taxes to fund anything; by the 4th week in March the budget will be done – does de Blasio “fight the good fight,” and lose – or is there a way to “save face?”

Police commissioners and chancellors must support the policies of the mayor; earn the support of the public and the employees they lead.

The mayor needs a chancellor who can navigate Scylla and Charybdis, who can steer around the whirlpools and eddies and not be tempted by the bewitching song of the sirens. The chancellor, learning from Odysseus may have to bind himself tightly to the mast, his men blocking their ears with wax to avoid the alluring seductive melodies that would bring him, and the administration to doom.

Enough Greek mythology, although we can learn a great deal from the Greeks; listening to the guy next to you on the bar stool will empty your wallet and chase away your girlfriend.

Finding sages who have “been there and done that,” who have a vested interest in your success, crafting polices that are morally, ethically and politically attainable is the path a mayor must follow.