Tag Archives: Chancellor Farina

Chancellor Carranza’s Theory of Change: Create a New Research-Based Urban Education Paradigm or Implement Proven Education Programs?

The new chancellor has been skipping from school to school for a month: the obligatory meet and greet new chancellor tour; heavily scripted trips around the city, the Sherpas arranging carefully controlled media availability, meetings with community and political leaders, lots of pictures with kids and the smiling chancellor. I had an opportunity to tag along on one these tours in the past: you could sniff the aroma of fresh paint, the custodian touched up the school the day before the visit, the student work on the bulletin boards all dated the day before the visit, the obligatory walk-through the day before by the superintendent to make sure everyone was on their best behavior as the chancellor smiles and shakes hands his inbox piles up with folder after folder.

Inbox folders: Specialized HS Options, Diversity (Note: NEVER use the words integration, or, heavens forbid, segregation), Suspensions, Renewal Schools, Fair Student Funding formula, UFT contract negotiations, ATRs, Management structure, Political relationships, Media relationships and more.

Will the chancellor’s management style be to respond to criticism, or, create his own agenda? His predecessor responded to criticism by creating a “program,” with dollars and a press release attached and move on to the next issue. The one initiative that she created, Renewal Schools, has been subject to constant criticism.

Many school and school district leaders follow a triage management philosophy; running from school to school, from problem to problem pouring water on the flames; unfortunately, they sometimes pour from the wrong bucket, pouring gasoline on the problem

After a raucous meeting at an Upper West Side white parents spoke out against a school integration plan, the chancellor, at 1 am retweeted, 

,”WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools,”

The next day the mayor was asked to respond,

“I don’t think he at all intends to vilify anyone — he’s not that type of person,” said de Blasio. “This was his own personal voice … I might phrase it differently.”

At a school visit the next day the chancellor responded to reporters,

“The criticism of my predecessor Chancellor Fariña was that she didn’t do anything about this,” he said. “And here I am in my first month actually engaging in this conversation.”

“Let’s all take a breath,” Carranza said. “Let’s let communities come forward with what their solutions could be. Let’s give the space to our CECs to lead those conversations.”

The following day  the chancellor called the plan “very modest, quite frankly,” and a few days later,  “Nowhere in there (the District Three Middle School Integration Plan) are they talking about some of the very drastic things like busing or like rezoning or any of those things. I think it’s a modest conversation to be had.”

Welcome to the Big Apple.

A heartfelt comment tweeted out results in a few days of scrambling and back pedaling.

I was on a review team visiting a low performing middle school; we arrived at the school bright and early, the secretary apologized, the principal was busy assigning coverages for absent teachers. The principal walked into the meeting, somewhat disheveled, “Had to find teachers for coverages, we can never find enough substitutes.” The team leader began the meeting with a soft question, “How would you describe the qualities of an effective teacher?” The principal, replied immediately, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door”

Triage management, advance planning is the crisis of the moment and the norm becomes constant triage: a description of the job of the NYC Chancellors of the past?

Does the new guy have a theory of action?  Guiding principles?

Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in a paper entitled, “The Problem with the ‘What Works’ Approach to Education Research and the Case for Focusing on the Determinants of Highly Successful Education Systems” is sharply critical of focusing on programs, which he sees as commonplace, as the reason for mediocre student outcomes decade after decade. Tucker urges research leading to systemic change.

In my judgment … what the “proven program” research paradigm actually does is identify programs that produce marginal results in a dysfunctional system, when the real issue is how to fix the system, a problem that cannot be addressed with this paradigm.

 The underlying logic is simple. Start with the problem – say, a large proportion of students leave elementary school two or more years behind in reading. Come up with a theory about the cause of the problem and, to test the theory, use the theory to develop … a program. Administer the program with statistical controls … Then, put all the programs whose effect size crosses a certain threshold and meet certain criteria for research quality on a list of proven programs. Then stand back and watch the policymakers implement them in great numbers, replicating everywhere the results the researchers observed. Except, of course, they don’t. They never have, and when they do, we don’t see much improvement at scale.

 What researchers in the United States are doing is identifying programs that are at least making a little difference in a highly dysfunctional system. They tell you nothing whatsoever about how to build a highly effective system. They are a prescription for assembling a house of Band-Aids, when we could be building a great house.

 And that bring us to the main point, which is that effective schools, districts and states are not compilations of effective programs. They are effective systems. You may have a great way to teach reading, but, if you have lousy teachers, it won’t produce great reading results. You may have great teachers, but, if the school leader is a petty tyrant and does not support good teaching, the good teachers will either leave or give up while going through the motions of teaching.

Tucker concludes,

I am advocating for is a large program of research on the most successful education systems in the world, organized to help American states understand what combination of features of their systems account for their success, or, put another way, what the common principles are that underlie the different approaches they have taken. What is needed is a design orientation, which is to say that the purpose of this research should be to facilitate the redesign of our current state systems of education for high performance.

  Robert E. Slavin Director, Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University in “Using What Works [is the] Best Way Forward,” sharply disagrees with Tucker, he avers there are specific interventions that work.

 The only programs known from research that routinely add the equivalent of 20 or more PARCC points involve tutoring. This is particularly true when tutoring exists in a response-to-intervention format, in which students receive only the services they need. Tutoring is expensive. However, its costs can be greatly reduced by hiring high-quality paraprofessionals (teacher assistants), such as ones who have a B.A. Also, effective tutoring is likely to reduce special education costs in the long term. The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE), which I lead, recently completed a research review and found that tutoring from high-quality paraprofessionals exercised substantially positive outcomes on student achievement, averaging the equivalent of 26 PARCC points for one-to-one tutoring in reading or math, and 14 points for one-to-small group tutoring. If continued with integrity and care across multiple years, a growing number of students would reach “proficient” each year … students eventually could advance far beyond those in Massachusetts and “top-performing” countries. And there would be additional benefits: the apprenticeship model of hiring and training high quality tutors could bring talented, eager, recent college graduates into the teaching profession.

 The most important problem in America’s schools is not our middling PISA scores. It is the persistent gaps in achievement according to social class and ethnicity. Middle-class, White, and Asian students do not present major achievement challenges for our country. It is African American, Hispanic, and Native American students, and disadvantaged students of all ethnicities, whose learning demands our full attention … My proposal goes to the heart of this problem.  There is nothing wrong with struggling learners that tutoring and other proven programs cannot substantially improve. 

Is Carranza the “firefighter” chancellor, responding to blazes, hopefully quelling the jibes of critics and the media? Or, as per Tucker, will be spend months analyzing and researching the system and move forward with sweeping systemic change? Or, as per Slavin, will he select well-researched programs, for example, tutors, and put the programs at the core of the teaching/learning process?

In the meantime those inbox folders continue to grow as advocates and critics lose patience, remember the new journalism mantra: if it bleeds, it leads.

My recommendation for Richard: exercise, meditation and lots of mariachi practice – you picked one stressful job!!

 

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.

Superintendents? Networks? How do You Manage a 1600-School System? How Do You Lead and Empower?

How should schools be “managed?”

Elected community school boards? Mayoral Control? Superintendents? Mega Regions? Empowerment? Networks?

Should Chancellors drive educational policy in a top-down hierarchical system? Should superintendents, selected by an elected school board, or appointed by the chancellor, have wide-sweeping authority over day-to-day school operations?

Joel Klein, after moving from one management idea to another settled on the theories of the UCLA Management professor William Ouchi in “Making Schools Work” (2003)

1. Every principal is an entrepreneur
2. Every school controls its own budget
3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets
4. Everyone delegates authority to those below
5. There is a burning focus on school achievement
6. Every school is a community of learners
7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools.

Klein created an odd mix, 60 thinly staffed networks to support, not supervise schools, and, as required by law, superintendents, with no staffs, who conducted Quality Reviews, rated principals and made teacher tenure decisions.

The 25-school networks varied widely in quality, some prospered as schools flourished while others stumbled, the department began to replace network leaders and permanently fold up networks.

At one of the innumerable mayoral candidate panels in 2013, sponsored by the CSA, the principals union, the moderator asked, “Superintendents or Networks?” Each of the candidates, with the exception of Christine Quinn, responded “superintendents” Quinn turned to the audience and asked for a voice vote, the audience, an auditorium filled with principals were divided, and passionate. Many clearly favored returning to a superintendent structure while other strongly favored remaining with networks.

At the rollout of the newly selected superintendents the Chancellor gave a cryptic explanation of the new structure, Chalkbeat reports,

What she didn’t reveal was a plan for overhauling the city’s broader, complicated system of school support, which includes superintendents and school-support networks. But she did say that anyone looking for a full return to old systems in which district superintendents oversaw large staffs might be disappointed with her plans.

“Networks are very important in terms of assisting [schools] with doing their job,” Fariña said.

Meanwhile, Fariña offered plenty of specifics for how superintendents should approach their management of individual schools.

School visits should always be announced, she said. Getting coffee with principals is great, though not as important as visiting classrooms. Taking notes on index cards is a good way to keep track of standout teachers and principals.

Index cards? Do they still make index cards? Please, can someone show the chancellor how to take notes on an I-Phone or an I-Pad or a tablet?

The new UFT contract requires an extended professional session on Tuesdays, with a principal-UFT committee determining the focus of the professional development. 62 schools were approved to make sweeping changes in the contract rules, and half of schools report that curriculum is in place in all subject areas. UFT president Mulgrew announced that superintendents will be doing joint walk-throughs of schools with union reps in the future. At the union delegate meeting many delegates were enthusiastic, others clearly not.

My former district was fully engaged in school-based management, school-based budgeting. A third of the schools jumped on board; parents, teachers and the principal worked together to address both school management and instructional issues, a third of the schools struggled and a third couldn’t care less.

In earlier days a few highly competent superintendents lead; however, does the leadership at the district level create sustained leadership at the school level? The chancellor’s district was a completely top-down model that initially showed substantial academic gains; when the schools were returned to their district the gains rapidly eroded.

In a school system of over 1600 schools what we do know is “one size fits all” fits no one. Some schools may require a structured environment while in others ideas percolate up from classrooms.

Jeff Latto was a middle school principal and I was invited to the school’s Leadership Team meeting. An issue was being vigorous debated, most of the committee favored the idea, and the principal didn’t. At one point the principal declared, “I clearly disagree, everyone else favors the idea, you want to try it, go ahead, just make it work.” I have forgotten the idea, not the role of the school leader. He trusted his staff, and, clearly the staff respected him.

I’ve seen superintendents surrounded with sycophantic staffs, an “emperor with no cloths,” ordering this or that, everyone nodded and nothing actually changed.

I’ve seen angry and hostile staffs that “complied,” reluctantly, and the culture of the school was toxic.

I’ve seen superintendents on hall patrol, superintendents leading professional development sessions, superintendents leading teacher “think tanks,” and others who were great at issuing dreary memoranda.

As the taking heads and the sages criticize Tweed for not coming up with a management strategy the important element is creating structure that both leads and empowers principals and teachers to lead and innovate.

Fred Koury was the founder of City as School High School, one of the first truly alternative high schools. At his retirement party everyone praised Fred, the school was wonderful, Fred was the principal, and, a member of the UFT Executive Board, but Fred demurred; he said, “Wait until we’re two more principals down the road, if the school is still great then I deserve applause for creating something worthwhile.”

The chancellor has to get it right.