Tag Archives: Chalkbeat

Can the de Blasio Specialized High School Schools Admissions Plan Avert the Disastrous City University Open Admissions Program? Or, Was Open Admission a Success?

The de Blasio plan to replace the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT)  with an admissions based on class standing in middle schools and state test scores was introduced in the Assembly and pushed into the next session, beginning in January, 2019.

Legislation sponsored by Assembly member Charles Barron to create a new admissions system for New York City’s specialized high schools (A.10427a) was today reported out of the Assembly Education Committee. This is a first step in addressing this issue, and I will be having conversations with Assembly members and various stakeholders to determine how to proceed in order to best serve New York City’s school children. The Assembly Majority will work deliberatively, speaking with all the affected communities, so that together we can find a resolution that benefits all of New York City’s students.

I am told that legislators have been flooded with messages opposing the bill, and, controversial bills rarely come to the floor. No legislator likes to create enemies, especially enemies who are well-organized and well-funded; the Assembly Speaker, wisely, decided to push the bill down the road (Read Speaker Heastie’s comments here).

The bill, which I believe is poorly crafted, replaces the SHSAT admissions test with a process as follows,

… students attending public schools located in the city of New York  who are in the top three percent of their eighth grade class, as  calculated  based  on  multiple  measures  of student achievement …  … and  who  achieve  a  composite  score above  or  at  the  cut-off composite score for the school such students have committed themselves to attend, …  provided  that  such students shall also rank in the top quarter of public school students in the eighth grade citywide based  on   such multiple measures of student achievement, and provided further that   openings  shall  be  reserved for such students at each specialized high   school as set forth in subdivision seven of this section; 

Yes, the bill leaves many questions unanswered, the bottom line, top students within individual schools across the city will have access to the specialized high schools and students with higher achievement in high achieving middle school will not achieve a spot.

I’m not going to muse on the fairness/unfairness of the current SHSAT process or the fairness/unfairness of the new proposal; the bill, as I read it, would increase numbers of students of color and reduce numbers of Asian students.  The proposal is reminiscent of the late sixties battle over the admission process to the four-year CUNY schools. For those of us of a certain age the sixties is burned in our memory, for some, sex, drugs and rock and roll, maybe not in that order, for others a free education at a CUNY school.

Today #blacklivematter and #metoo dominate the landscape, football players knelling during the national anthem, Trump’s blatantly racist tweets and comments, the criminalization of immigrants, the nation appears divided and reminiscent of the angst of the sixties..

The very survival of the nation seemed at risk in the sixties.

Riots in Detroit, Newark and Los Angeles, scores of deaths, National Guard troops in the streets, massive ant-war demonstrations, civil rights marches, the assassination of JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and, in September 1968 a two month racially toxic teachers strike.

Student sit-ins broke out at Queens College, Brooklyn College and Columbia protesting the absence of minority students. The New York State budget made drastic cuts in the CUNY budget, the president of City College and department heads announced their resignation, the CUNY chancellor announced the colleges would not accept an opening class in September. Students and community activists occupied City College to protest the overwhelmingly white student body; classes were suspended, the occupiers and the college commenced negotiations and at the end of May, 1969 announced a new policy: open admissions. (Read a contemporary account here).

Students would no longer have to pass rigorous entrance exams; graduates of high schools could gain admittance to the four-year city colleges.

Did Open Admissions open opportunity at the four year colleges to students of color or turn the colleges into remedial institutions filled with student without college level skills?

Almost a half century later Open Admissions is still an emotional topic.

I was at an art gallery out on the end of Long Island wearing my CCNY baseball cap. A gentleman pointed to the cap, “What year?” The topic immediately turned to, from the point of view of the gentleman, how Open Admissions ruined his beloved alma mater.

A recent book, “Changing the Odds: Open Admissions and the Life Chances of the Disadvantaged,” by David Lavin and David Hyllegard,

… examines the impact of what they call the most ambitious effort ever made to promote equality of opportunity in American higher education, the open-admissions experiment at the City University of New York (CUNY). From 1970 through 1976, the seventeen-campus, two hundred thousand student CUNY system guaranteed admission to all high school graduates. Test scores were not considered in the admissions process. All those with at least an 80 average in college preparatory courses or who ranked in the top half of their high school classes were deemed qualified for a four-year college. Everyone else was eligible for community college enrollment.

The initial results of the new policy were not surprising: the size of the CUNY freshman class grew by 75%, and the number of Black and Hispanic enrollees quadrupled at the system s four-year colleges.

I spoke with a CCNY graduate from the mid-seventies about Open Admissions, he laughed, “If wasn’t only for minority kids, I would never have gotten in, I’m a big fan.”

The Clarion, the newsletter of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the CUNY union, in a February 2018 article  argues,

The deleterious consequences of dismantling open admissions were brought to light in The Atlantic: “Since it went through an aggressive, system-wide overhaul that began in 2000, the City University of New York’s top five colleges – Baruch, Hunter, Brooklyn, Queens and City – have been raising admission standards and enrolling fewer freshmen from New York City high schools. Among the results has been the emergence of a progressively starker two-tier system: CUNY’s most prestigious colleges now increasingly favor Asian and white freshmen, while the system’s black and Latino students end up more and more in its overcrowded two-year community colleges.”

According to the 2010 census data the black plus Hispanic population in New
York City was 50% and the black plus Hispanic population at CCNY  (2017-18) is 57%.  The diversity numbers at the college mirror NYC numbers; however, how do we measure school success?

In a major research study, Raj Chetty and his team reviewed millions of data sets to analyze rates of social mobility: colleges moving students from the bottom 40 percent by income to the top 40 percent. Of the many hundreds of colleges examined the City College of New York, my beloved CCNY has the second highest student social mobility rate (Check out the research as parsed by the NY Times here) in the nation. Pretty impressive!!

Was Open Admissions a success or a failure? Was Open Admissions sabotaged through budget cuts and a lack of supports with the colleges?  Does the Chetty study tell us that in spite of budget cuts the CUNY colleges have been extraordinarily effective in carrying out their mission?

I attended the CCNY graduation last week, the salutatorian, a woman who arrived from China in 2008 without knowing a word of English graduating at the top of her class ten years later with a degree in bio-medical engineering.

After the November election democrats may be a majority in the Senate; however the democratic side of the aisle in the Senate has always been fractious. The last two democratic leaders were convicted of crimes and left in disgrace and the former Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) members, while in the democratic conference will vote as they please on controversial issues.

Next year is also the year that Mayoral Control has to be reauthorized in the legislature and Corey Johnson, the speaker of the Council and Mark Tryger, the chair of the City Council education committee have voiced dissatisfaction with the current shape of mayoral control in the city.

Our new chancellor, six weeks on the job, has been a spectator who has made a number of “feel good” speeches and a few, very few comments that he rapidly backed away from: can he become a major voice? While the “ink” has been all around the Specialized High Schools there are well over a hundred screened schools: will the mayor or the chancellor take any action to change test-score based enrollment policies at the screened schools, or, the zones of the schools that limit applications from students across the city? (See an excellent Chalkbeat article here ).

The leader of the teacher union, Michael Mulgrew, made an interesting proposal in regard to admission at screened schools that has not received any discussion, use the 16-66-16 Education Option guidelines for high school admissions. (66% of kids within one standard deviation of the mean, 16% above and 16% below).

We should work towards a solution that permits all high achieving kids, BTW, that term requires a more nuanced definition, to receive the education that is appropriate to their skills, ideally in an integrated setting. We can’t set kids against each other by race, ethnicity, language or gender.

Any ideas?

And the Next New York City Schools Chancellor Will/ Or, Will Not Be (According to the NY Times, and friends) …..

It’s been thirty days and no leadership decision has been made , no, not the schools chancellor, the NY Giants coach! For many New Yorkers a far more important decision than who occupies the seat in the Tweed Courthouse  (the ornate 19th century building that houses the Department of Education). There is no time frame for the decision, the mayor announced that Carmen Farina, the current chancellor, will be retiring and a replacement will be named in the coming months.

The speculation began as whispers and has now become a contest. Eva Moskowitz came out with her list of fourteen possibilities. A friend half-joked, “If I really wanted the job that’s a list I would not want to be on.”

Charles Sahm, at the Manhattan Institute mused over possible contenders, “Six intriguing candidates for New York City chancellor”.

Chalkbeat, the education website joined in with its list of possibles, “What you should know about seven people who could be the next New York City chancellor.”.

Eliza Shapiro at Politico took a different tack, “Here’s Who Won’t Be the Next NYC Chancellor.”

A New York Times editorial endorsed a list of candidates praising the Bloomberg years and demeaning the de Blasio/Farina years, “Some Bright Hopes for NYC Schools.”

Let’s conduct an exercise, a list of qualities or requirements necessary in the next chancellor: experience in leading a large urban school system and/or a record of success in prior educational leadership posts, demonstrated experience in working with parent and advocacy groups, especially the teacher union, experience in working in New York City would be helpful, plus, demonstrated experience in working in a highly politicized environment, a public persona with a demonstrated ability to communicate with media outlets (“get out the message”), and, the key acknowledgment: you are not a superintendent or a chancellor, in reality, in a mayoral control city you are the deputy mayor for education. Every policy decision you make will be vetted by the mayor and you will be expected to successfully implement mayoral initiatives.

Next step: Do any of the “candidates” referenced above fit the bill?

How about someone who (a) created and implemented the only large urban city program for low performing schools that was successful, (b) successfully led two large urban school systems, and (c) in her last job led the nation in academic growth in the third largest school system in the nation “Chicago leading nation in growth scores.

Before you get too excited, Barbara Byrd Bennett had a secret, she was a compulsive gambler and illegally took dollars from vendors, she is currently a “guest” of the federal government.

Rumors were that she was the de Blasio # 1 choice four years ago, she declined, she had promised to complete her contractual obligation in Chicago.

Of all the “speculations” the New York Times is the furthest out of the mainstream. The editorial folk at the Times are fixated on the chaotic twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg,

Mayor Bill de Blasio took control of New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, four years ago, denouncing the aggressive, data-driven approach to school improvement that his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had used with considerable success. Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña — who recently announced her retirement — shared his vague agenda.

…  the proven school managers whose accomplishments make them appealing candidates will be hesitant to accept the post in the absence of a clear, compelling mayoral vision and backing for forceful action on behalf of students.

The mayor has described his mission over the next four years as promoting equity and excellence, but those goals remain largely out of reach, even as test scores have inched up and graduation rates have risen. In fact, the city needs to move more urgently on three fronts: ending profound racial segregation; closing failing schools while opening better ones; and finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system.

How fast the editorial writers forget:

  • Four major management system upheavals that kept the school system in permanent turmoil. (from Regions, to ill-defined Knowledge Networks, to Empowerment to Affinity Networks)
  • The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) system, a Bloomberg/Klein “innovation”
  • The Open Market Transfer system, actually “teacher free agency,” teachers can move from school to school, moving from high poverty, lower performing to higher performing schools guaranteeing that low performing schools would be continually staffed by neophyte teachers.
  • The “data-driven” systems included SESEIS, an online special education database that was a disaster and actually deprived students of services rather than tracking services.
  • Creating over a hundred “screened” schools, increasing segregation and pulling higher achieving kids out of poor schools effectively lowering achievement in those schools.

I could go on and on; yes, the Bloomberg/Klein leadership closed 150 schools, many, not all, were beyond repair, and created 500 schools, initially with academic gains, gains that have eroded; however, the battles with teachers and their union extinguished many of the early accomplishments.

Is the de Blasio/Farina agenda “vague,”?  Universal PreK and 3 for All (PreK for 3-year olds beginning in the poorest district) will positively impact lives for generations.

Ending profound segregation,” has a nice ring; only 14% of the children in the school system are white and most children attend hyper-segregated schools that reflect neighborhoods.

 “Closing failing schools and creating better ones,” seems simple, no one has found a magic bullet. Closing an elementry school and opening a successor school in the same building has not been a winning strategy.

“ …finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system,” is exactly what the current de Blasio negotiated union contract does, sets aside time each week for professional development; retaining the best teachers in the highest poverty schools under the Bloomberg “free agency” and data mania has driven teachers to higher performing schools or out of the system. The Times doesn’t know, or, fails to comprehend, the current New York State teacher evaluation system includes expedited hearings, allows management to bring charges after two “ineffective” ratings and moves the burden of proof to the teacher.

The Bloomberg years, like former partners, look better in retrospect, the pain and anguish fades.

Picking winners, like picking school/school district leaders can be a “roll of the dice.”

I’ve participated in interviews, sat in audiences while superintendent candidates were interviewed and watched interviews online, all sort of “speed dating.”

For some you kept glancing at your watch, it was agony to listen; others were glib, well-rehearsed answers, a few charming; however, the quality of the interview does not translate into the effectiveness on the job. You vet, you contact the former employer, parents and electeds and I called the teacher union leader.

It’s hard to see someone without ties to the city leading a 1.1 million children system, a system so embroiled in political agendas. Dan Drumm, the new chair of the City Council Finance Committee is a 25-year teacher and a union activist in his teaching days, Mark Tryger, the new chair of the Council Education Committee was a high school teacher four years ago, and an outspoken critic of the Bloomberg data-madness. Betty Rosa, the Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents was a career teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx.

I’m not going to list “favorites,” don’t want to jinx anyone, it is a monumental task, as I wrote earlier this Jesus-Mohammad-Moses-Buddha-like personage is hard to find.

Maybe the feds will let Barbara become chancellor as part of a work release program?

BTW, if you haven’t discovered it yet you must watch “Rita,” about a “kick-ass” Danish teacher, it is fantastic, click on the link: https://www.buzzfeed.com/matwhitehead/one-less-lonely-hjordis?utm_term=.ism55mqKo#.tjnddzqQZ

The Freedom of Speech Thin Line: Defending and Advocating for Your School or Indoctrinating and Using Students

Jill Bloomberg has been the principal of Park Slope Colleague, a small high school on the John Jay campus since 2004.  According to articles in Chalkbeat (“Investigation of activist principal has free-speech advocates asking what politics are allowed at school”) and the New York Times (“A Principal Is Accused of Being a Communist, Rattling a Brooklyn School“) is under investigation allegedly for “communist organizing.”

… one of her assistant principals, who had met with an investigator, revealed to her exactly what the allegation was, one that seemed a throwback to another era: Communist organizing.

The Office of Special Investigation (OSI), the investigative arm of the Department of Education has opened an investigation into the principal’s conduct and the principal has gone to court to squelch the investigation.

Chalkbeat writes,

The war, it seems, will partly depend on whether Bloomberg violated D-130 — a Chancellor’s regulation that prohibits school employees from “being involved in any activities, including fundraising, on behalf of any candidate, candidates, slate of candidates or political organization/committee during working hours.”

The city claims, among other allegations, that Bloomberg violated the regulation by advocating on behalf of the Progressive Labor Party, a political organization with communist ties, at school. Bloomberg denies that and says she isn’t a member herself. But the case raises a larger question of what the regulation is meant to cover.

The New York Times writes,

Over the years, Ms. Bloomberg has become one of the most outspoken and visible critics of New York City’s public schools, regularly castigating the Education Department’s leadership at forums and in the news media. Most of her criticism is aimed at actions that she says perpetuate a segregated and unequal educational system and that penalize black and Latino students. Through the years, she has helped organize protests and assemblies to push for integration and equal resources and treatment for her almost entirely black and Latino student body.

I believe there are a number of questions: are the actions of the principal “protected speech”? and, the larger question, have recent Supreme Court decisions broadened the definition of “speech” under the First Amendment? finally, did the principal violate Chancellor’s Regulation D-130?

I have written at length about the issue of “protected” and “unprotected” speech,” one of my most accessed blogs: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2015/12/21/freedom-of-speech-outside-of-the-classroom-protected-versus-unprotected-speech-when-is-teacher-speech-job-related-or-citizen-speech/

 The case law has been extensive and has narrowed the definition of free speech.

In Givhan v Western Lane Consolidated School District (1979), Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Court argues that the interests of a teacher as a citizen in commenting on matters of public concern “must be balanced against the interests of the state, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency” of public schools. A teacher’s speech may not be protected when it specifically impedes “the proper performance of his classroom duties or generally interferes with the regular operation of schools.”

The United States Supreme Court further limited speech, and ruled that when public employees speak while performing their official duties, (i.e., “job duty speech”); this speech is not protected by the First Amendment and can be the basis for discipline or discharge.

In 2006 in Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court clarifies and limits the issue of protected speech. The plaintiff in the case was a district attorney who claimed that he had been passed up for a promotion for criticizing the actions of his office The Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that because his statements were made pursuant to his position as a public employee, rather than as a private citizen, his speech had no First Amendment protection.

Commenting on the decision, a legal memo distinguishes between a government employee as citizen and as an employee,

 … a government entity has broader discretion to restrict speech when it acts in its employer role, but the restrictions it imposes must be directed at speech that has some potential to affect its operations. On the other hand, a citizen who works for the government is nonetheless still a citizen. The First Amendment limits a public employer’s ability to leverage the employment relationship to restrict, incidentally or intentionally, the liberties employees enjoy in their capacities as private citizens …. So long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively.

Justice Kennedywriting for the majority concludes his opinion,

    We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties. Our precedents do not support the existence of a constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.

The impact of the Kennedy decision has had a chilling impact.

Garcetti v Ceballos (2006) has been the precedent in a number of cases denying teacher claims of protected speech.

In 2010, in Citizen’s United, the court, in a 5-4 decision invalidated a statute that limited political contributions by corporations and unions; the court ruled that statute unconstitutional and vigorously expands freedom of political speech,

Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. See Buckley , supra , at 14–15 (“In a republic where the people are sovereign, the ability of the citizenry to make informed choices among candidates for office is essential”). The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it. The First Amendment “ ‘has its fullest and most urgent application’ to speech uttered during a campaign for political office.” Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm. , 489 U. S. 214,223 (1989) (quoting Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy , 401 U. S. 265, 272 (1971) ); see Buckley , supra , at 14 (“Discussion of public issues and debate on the qualifications of candidates are integral to the operation of the system of government established by our Constitution”).

     For these reasons, political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence. Laws that burden political speech are “subject to strict scrutiny,” which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.” 

Did the court erode the distinction between “protected” and “unprotected” speech? While Citizen’s United is reviled because it basically allows unlimited contributions to campaigns, does it also allow for wider freedom to comment and advocate on the political stage?

The OSI investigation, according to media accounts is based on whether or not the principal violated a Department regulation, D-130 (Read regulations here), the Department does not comment on ongoing investigations.

Chancellor Regulation D-130 is entitled, “Use of School Buildings, Elected Officials and Political Organizations and Conduct of Employees and Officers with Respect to Political Campaigns and Elections,”  On the face the regulation does not appear relevant to the actions of the principal.

Employers do have wide discretion in imposing discipline; however, the limiting factor is the collective bargaining agreement, aka, the union. If the Department brings charges against the principal she is entitled to have the accusations heard by an impartial arbitrator.  Courts will usually not intercede until all the administrative remedies have been exhausted, namely, the decision of the arbitrator has been rendered.

I have always advised teachers, if they intend to speak at a public forum, to make it clear, “I am speaking as an individual;” hopefully, that statement will “protect” their speech.

Diane Ravitch in her blog asks, Do employees of the New York City Department of Education have Freedom of Speech?

The answer, as you have read, is complicated.