Tag Archives: charter schools

Eva, Andrew and NYS Politics: Why is Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy Network CEO so politically influential?

A quick review: The charter school law in New York State passed in December, 1998 at a lame duck session of the legislature called by Governor Pakati – two items on the agenda, the charter school bill and a raise, BTW, the last raise legislators received!  The law  established a quota on the number of charter schools, currently New York City  is about 25 schools below the quota, the quota for the remainder of the state is about 150 schools below the quota. Supporters of charter schools range from Milton Freedman acolytes, the anti-teacher union cabal, and, recently, Republicans feasting on charter school political action dollars. The Republicans have very few charter schools in their districts.

Under the law the Charter School Institute, part of the State University (SUNY) and the Board of Regents are charter school authorizers. The Charter School Institute maintains a detailed website – Check out here. Check out the Charter School Office of the New York State Education Department here. While the organizations, SUNY and the NYSED must comply with the law they have differing standards re approving charter school applications and renewals.

Charter Schools receive authorizations for five years, and, in the fifth year the authorizer reviews the performance of the school, The SUNY Charter School Institute extends the charter for an additional five years, or, rarely, closes the charter school. The NYSED Charter School Office can recommend to the Regents reauthorizing charters from two to a full five years, or, fail to renew and close the charter. See the just released “NYSED Protocols for Charter School Site Visits: 2017-18.

In the Spring, 2017 the SUNY Charter School Institute submitted ten requests for the extension of charters that were years away from renewal to the Board of Regents, the schools were all in the Eva Moskowitz run Success Academy Network, The Regents returned the requests to SUNY with the following comments,

Renewals to Charters Authorized by the Trustees of the State University of New York 
Your Committee recommends that the Board of Regents return the proposed charters [ten Success Academy Charter Schools with two, three and four years remaining before expiration of the charter] to the Trustees of the State University of New York for reconsideration with the following comment and recommendation:

Approving the renewal of any charter school years before the expiration of the charter does not allow timely review of the school’s educational and fiscal soundness, community support, legal compliance, or means by which the school will meet or exceed enrollment and retention targets for students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. The charters should be abandoned, and the schools should be directed to resubmit the application no earlier than one year prior to the expiration of the charter term.

Under the law the extensions will go into effect after 90 days if SUNY chooses not to withdraw the renewal requests.

Why would the Charter School Institute even consider extending charters years ahead of time?  Remember the song: “Whatever Eva wants …?

Additionally, the Charter School Committee of SUNY released draft regulations: SUNY will approve plans submitted by charter networks for teacher certification in SUNY-authorized charter schools without the formal teacher certification required for all other teachers in the state.  Public comment forms open from 7/26 for 45 days here. The SUNY Charter School Institute indicated the change was necessary due to the difficulty in recruiting certified teachers; no evidence was presented to support the claim. The regulation appears to grant charter school networks wide discretion in approving prospective charter school teacher candidates.

Commissioner Elia and the Chancellor Rosa expressed  “concerns” over the plan,

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools,” …. “Our review of SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”

On July 17th Ed in the Apple submitted comments to the Charter School Institute urging the Institute to withdraw the proposal and seek other avenues to recruit teachers. (Read here).

The SUNY Board of Trustees is comprised of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, with consent of the NYS Senate.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the State University of New York.  The Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that oversees SUNY authorized charter schools. Consisting of four members [three lawyers and a businessman], the Committee “approves or denies charter applications, revisions and renewals, administers a statewide charter school grant program, and sets SUNY charter school policies and standards.”

The SUNY Board belongs to the governor.

The Regents are responsible for “the general supervision of all educational activities within the State. The Regents are organized into standing committees, subcommittees and work groups whose members and chairs are appointed by the Chancellor.”

The Board comprises 17 members elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State Legislature for 5 year terms [actually by the Democratic majority]: 1 from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.

The governor has no statutory authority over the Regents.

Why does Eva Moskowitz have so much clout?  Why is the governor supporting policies clearing benefiting Moskowitz?

The 2018 Gubernatorial Election:

Three years ago Cuomo had to fight off attacks from the left in his own party to win the primary and fight off a popular, if underfunded Republican candidate. Cuomo received 54% of the vote; however, if you look at a map the pink/red (Republican) districts far outnumber the blue (Democratic) districts – the deciding factor was 80% plus majorities for Cuomo in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (See map here). A better funded Republican could have even narrowed the gap, and, the charter school political action dollars are a key: who controls the charter school PAC dollars and how can Cuomo prevents the dollars from flowing to a Republican candidate?  Think Eva.

The 2020 Presidential Election (Not Bernie, Not Hillary)

Friends say I’m crazy,  Cuomo isn’t “presidential material,” I demur. Cuomo is hard to place on the political spectrum. He led the “fight for 15.” actively fighting Trump on immigrant issues, pro-environment, not pro decriminalization of marihuana,  did not push the “Dreamer” bill, he does not easily fall into a place on the spectrum. After a solid win in 2018 he can burnish credentials for a 2020 run for the White House. Andrew will not “leave the plane on the runway” – See Mario anecdote here.

Attacks from the Left

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and a political neophyte received 34% of the vote in the 2014 September Democratic gubernatorial primary; the left wing of the Democratic Party was clearly unhappy with Cuomo in 2014 and there are rumblings of challenges next year. Cynthia Nixon, a popular actor and activist, and, a very strong public school parent/activist is considering running. Will the Sanders voters support a political neophyte? Will the Working Families Party deny Cuomo an endorsement?

Will the teachers union remain on the sidelines?

In 2014 NYSUT, the NYS teachers union did not make an endorsement, and, a few Long Island locals endorsed Teachout in the primary. Yes, Cuomo leans toward charter schools; however, he provided the largest increase in state education dollars, shows no interest in reviving the reviled APPR test-scored based teacher evaluation plan and appears to be in sync with the Regents in implementing the 2015 Cuomo Commission recommendations.(Read here). NYSUT has a new leadership that has had a brief and fractious relationship with the governor, members don’t love him, on the other hand staying on the sidelines is like kissing your sister, satisfying for neither party.

Can any Democrat afford to “stay on the sidelines” or vote for a third party?

Yes, Cuomo tilts, or leans, or outright supports charter schools, can any democrat afford to not vote, perhaps to facilitate the election of a Republican?  Then again, Pataki, a Republican preceded Cuomo and served for three terms (twelve years). A current-day Republican governor would not only be pro charter, s/he would also be pro voucher, anti-tenure and also support sharp restrictions on increases in property taxes. Rationally, Democrats would appear to have no place to go but support Cuomo, voters are not rational. How many democrats voted for Jill Stein instead of Hillary?  Did the Stein voters tip the scales for Trump?

I know too many teachers who are lifelong democrats who simply say they cannot “pull the lever,” excuse me, “bubble in the box” for Cuomo.

Cuomo’s flirtation with Eva may end badly; yes. he may prevent charter dollars from flowing to an Republican opponent, on the other hand, he may have alienated many “irrational” democratic voters.

Brief affairs frequently don’t end well.

Read a lengthy article in Politico musing over the end of education reform in New York and the role of Cuomo here

Mayoral Control and Charter Schools: Pawns on the Chessboard of Politics

Back in the eighties a major issue in Albany was the death penalty; Republicans and DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) supported a death penalty law opposed by progressive Democrats. After a few years a death penalty law passed in both houses and Governor Cuomo pere vetoed the bill; the legislature overrode the veto – New York State had a death penalty law.

A few years later a Republican operative bemoaned the passage, “It was stupid, we gave up a great election issue.”

Politics is about gaining advantage, the Republicans “intimation” that Obama was not born in the nation, constant subtle racism, Bengazi, e-mails, etc.,  have nothing to do with policy, in fact, the only policy issue – “repeal and replace” of Obamacare, is turning out to be a major negative for Republicans.

The consistent attacks worked, a Republican president, although for the party insiders the wrong Republican and both houses of Congress.

In New York State linking mayoral control to charter schools has enabled the Senate Republicans to collect substantial campaign dollars from charter school supporters across the nation by forcing reluctant Democrats to support charter school issues in order to retain mayoral control.

This year the Assembly Democrats taking a firm line.

Both houses of the state legislature, the Assembly and the Senate will adjourn on Wednesday, June 21st.

If mayoral control is not renewed New York City will revert to the prior management model – decentralization. A seven-member school board: one appointed by each of the five borough presidents and two by the mayor and 40 elected school boards, the elections would be held in May, 2018. (See decentralization law here). Virtually everyone, from the Governor to both houses of the legislature to the editorial boards of the newspapers to the good government groups totally reject a return to the previous management model – decentralization.

The legislature had three days to find common ground.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly passed a two-year extension of mayoral control and in the same bill included tax extenders for a number of local communities, in Republican districts, that in prior years were routinely passed and are non-controversial. If the tax extenders do not pass the communities would face serious fiscal hardships.

The Republican-controlled Senate introduced three bills, all linking mayoral control to pro-charter school legislation.

The Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie, stated under no circumstances would mayoral control be linked to pro-charter school legislation.

On Tuesday, June 13th the Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced a  “Transparency and Accountability for Charter School Funding  bill,

This bill would provide enhanced transparency and accountability of charter schools in regards to enrollment targets, discipline policies,management and operation of the charter school, charter reserve funds,charter facilities rental aid payments, information disseminated to parents regarding probationary status, and residency dispute issues.

Read the entire bill here.

Governor has made his position clear, and, was pessimistic in an interview,

ALBANY – Gov. Cuomo expressed pessimism that the expiring law giving Mayor de Blasio control over the city school system will be renewed before the state Legislature ends its annual session next week.

… he believes any solution should include a three-year extension of the law coupled with pro-charter school provisions …

“The question is do they care enough to do it,” he said of the Assembly and Senate reaching a compromise agreement. “I would bet against it. They could have made this compromise a long time ago (during budget talks).”

Asked if he’s disturbed the governor seems to be siding with the Senate GOP rather than with his fellow Dems in the Assembly, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said: “same song, different day.”

If no law is passed the legislature goes home the demise of mayoral control remains in the headlines. With minimal opposition Mayor de Blasio will be re-elected; the gubernatorial and legislative races aren’t until 2018.

The Republicans can simply walk away, allow mayor control to revert to decentralization, and absorb the criticism.

The Democrats can hold the line – mayoral control is not linked to charter schools.

The Governor can attack, as he frequently does, in his words, the dysfunctional legislature.

Or, a compromise, renew mayoral control, raise the New York City cap on the number of charter schools and pass parts of the Charter School Transparency and Accountability in Funding bill, or, a compromise that makes no sense to anyone, except the legislature.

Pure crass politics, basic ideological beliefs and egos all clash.

In the calculus of politics who gains and who loses, who is the better chess player?

If no bill is passed the legislature can return later in the summer or after election day; however, special sessions are rare.

19th century German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck is credited with saying: “The two things you don’t want to see made in person are sausages and laws.”

A wise man.

Trump Nominates Betsy DeVos and Declares War on Public Education: Vouchers, Charters and School Choice on Steroids

You may have been “happier” with Michelle Rhee or Eva Moskowitz?

Trump nominated Betsy DeVos, the wife a the scion of the DeVos family (Amway), one of the wealthiest families in the nation.

Will DeVos be the next Cathy Black or the deconstructor of public education?

DeVos has been the leader of the Michigan Republican Party, a major fund raiser for the Republican Party, an early supporter of Marco Rubio and her husband has led the assault on labor in Michigan;  lost to Jennifer Grandholm for the governor of Michigan in 2007 and has been in the forefront of the anti-labor assault.

Dick” DeVos,

“The Greatest Generation did not just win a World War, they labored shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow workers to create and sustain value-added enterprises. By contrast, ‘big union bosses have engaged in cozy deals and political backroom dealings in order to advance their personal agendas, not those of their members,’” 

 “By casting off the practice of forced unionization; Michigan now publicly declares to other states and in fact the world, that we embrace freedom for our workers, true equality in the workplace and that we are ready to compete with anyone, anywhere to create economic opportunity for our Michigan families.”

President Randi Weingarten wasted no time in trashing Betsy DeVos,

“The president-elect, in his selection of Betsy DeVos, has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education. 

“In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America. 

“DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools. The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation.

Dana Goldstein, the author if the acclaimed Teacher Wars: a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession parses DeVos’s attacks on public education in Michigan; a state in which charters perform poorly, well below public schools. With access to unlimited dollars DeVos passed legislation creating unregulated charter schools; in spite of legislative attempts to bring accountability to Michigan charter schools DeVos and her cronies successfully derailed the bill.

In an article in Slate  Goldstein paints a picture of DeVos as the Bill Gates of the educational far right who sees her role as creating a totally choice system. Using her fortune to impose her will on the public education.

Decisions as to the nature of schools is left to states and across the nation a handful of states have lenient charter laws, some restrict charters to not-for-profit sponsors, others for -profit and a few on-line for-profit schools.  The feds can provide dollars to existing charters schools; the creation and monitoring of charter schools is a state responsibility.

The battle over Title 1 dollars will dominate the new school wars. Republicans in the House have supported making Title 1 dollars portable, in other words turning them into vouchers that would follow the student to public, private, charters,  for-profits,  religious, or, even home schooling. The result would be dramatic reductions in dollars in the poorest public schools. A transfer of public taxpayer dollars from public schools to the free market, with for-profit schools reaping the dollars.

Diane Ravitch and the Network for Public Education have documented misuse and outright corruption in states with unregulated charter schools as well as extremely poor outcomes in voucher plans.

On the other hand the Trump/DeVos Department will be far less intrusive in states than the Obama/Duncan/King department. The Civil Rights Division of the USDOE has been activist pursuing innumerable challenges to states: Title 9 (Equity for Women in Sports programs), disproportionality (excessive numbers of minority children in Special Education classes as well as suspensions). The acceptance of Title 1 dollars gives the feds the authority to intervene, if they choose. One would expect DeVos would be a far less activist Secretary in these areas.

Under Senate rules a majority is required to confirm cabinet nominees; the Republicans hold a 52-48 majority and barring a catastrophic performance before the committee one would expect confirmations; although the dems will pressure the nominees in the process.

With virtually unlimited dollars DeVos had a free a hand in Michigan. The ability to flit from home to home; the family owns a compound in Vero Beach, Florida and a number of homes in Michigan. Dick DeVos is an accomplished pilot. Whether Betsy can maneuver the rocky shoals of public scrutiny is to be decided. Her actions will be perceived as hostile to cities, hostile to public schools, hostile to the poorest, the attacks will be unrelenting. Maybe she has alligator skin and can cast off the sticks and stones; maybe, like Cathy Black, her wealthy, elitist background will make her ill-prepared for public service.

Will the (de)formers, for example the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), progressive democrats in most arenas jump on the Trump/DeVos band wagon? Frederick Hess, a leading charter supporter has already endorsed DeVos.

Public education across the nation is at risk.

Massachusetts Governor Baker and the Charter School Question on the Ballot: Has the 2020 Presidential Election Begun?

“I will be voting no on Question 2 … I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.” Elizabeth Warren in the Boston Globe, 9/26/16

“Donors to the pro-charter school campaign include two prominent millionaires – former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who contributed $240,000 and Jim Walton of Arizona, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, who contributed more than $1.1 million.” WCVB, 9/10/16

The Manhattan Institute hosted Governor Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of a blue state, Massachusetts, and one of the most popular governors in the nation.  The Governor traipsed down from Boston to defend Question 2 on the Massachusetts ballot – a proposal to allow the creation of 12 additional charter schools a year, sites to be determined by the state.

The proposal is highly controversial in Massachusetts and across the nation.

What is perplexing is why the governor of the state with the best educational system in the nation would expend so much political capital on a contentious and highly questionable proposition.

If Massachusetts was considered a nation it would be at the top of the world in educational attainment.

Forbes reports,

… if Massachusetts were allowed to report subject scores independently — much the way that, say, Shanghai is allowed to do so — the Bay State would rank 9th in the world in Math Proficiency, tied with Japan, and on the heels of 8th-ranked Switzerland. In reading, Massachusetts would rank fourth in the world, tied with Hong Kong, and not far behind third-ranked Finland.

How Massachusetts raised itself to the top of the state heap is straightforward, the Education Reform Act of 1993, frequently referred to as the “Grand Bargain.”

“We will make a massive infusion of progressively distributed dollars into our public schools, and in return, we demand high standards and accountability from all education stakeholders. This grand bargain is the cornerstone of education reform.”

The law provided the following,

1) Curriculum frameworks in each subject; (View the frameworks here)

2) State testing – the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System:  View MCAS test items here)

3) State tests for graduation, which students could take beginning in the tenth grade, and which they were given multiple opportunities to retake until they passed;

4) More time for instruction;

5) Entry tests for new teachers;

6) A new foundation budget that raised funding across the state, especially in high-needs districts;

7) 22 charter schools for the entire state (currently there about 75).

It is also noteworthy that the state increased early childhood education funding by 247% between 1996 and 1999.

The combination of an equitable funding formula, highly regarded standards and rigorous entry standards for teachers resulted in very impressive outcomes.

When the Massachusetts legislature failed to raise the charter cap pro charter folk collected enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. The battle for and against the question has been extremely costly, millions of dollars poured into the ballot question. Polls give the “no” votes a slim lead within the margin of error.

The Governor based his support on ending the suburban versus urban achievement gap.  Baker proffered that the 75 or so charter schools in Massachusetts, mostly in high poverty cities were outperforming public schools.  Scott claimed the longer school day and school year resulted in 50% greater instructional time, and, was the primary reason for the higher test scores. To a question about high suspension rates and high attrition rates in charter schools Scott pushed back, sort of.  From what I heard from Baker charter schools had higher graduation rates, among the students who remained.

To my question: whether he agreed with Jeb Bush that all parent should be given a voucher to choose any type of school, public, charter, independent,  Baker punted. “I’m only concerned with the question before the voters.”

Baker failed to address the core question: if charter schools are doing better than similarly situated public schools, why are they more successful?  There is no evidence that the longer school day and school year equals higher test scores. In fact, charter schools vary widely in achievement. Baker argued that the pre-screening of new charter school applicants and the closing of struggling charters was working well.

I am not familiar with the charter school data from Massachusetts.  In New York State charter schools vary greatly in quality and the charter schools with the highest achievement also raise significant dollars through philanthropy. High suspension rates and attrition; maybe forcing out the lowest achievers, impact test scores, and appears to be the norm.

Some of the charter networks are highly organized with high quality materials and low teacher-student ratios, others, struggle to meet payrolls.

If there is a “secret sauce,” I’m unaware of it.

I listened to a discussion, a public school teacher asked a charter school parent, “Do you know that charter schools force out discipline problems and low achievers?” The charter school parent replied, “Yes, that’s why I send my children to a charter school.”

Yes, charter schools select students by lottery; however, the parents who participate in the lottery are parents with greater social capital. The parents who do not participate in the lottery, who are unaware of charter schools may be parents with less ability to assist their own children.

Are charter schools a triage model?

Do charter schools effectively “cream” the most able students? Do charter schools educate the “talented tenth?”

… in 1903 in a book called The Negro Problem, W. E. B. DuBois wrote:  “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.”

Charter school devotees seem to be saying, and Baker fits into the scenario: the lottery divides parents into those that are aware of the lottery and others who are not; charter schools enforce strict discipline and force out those that don’t conform to the model and don’t enroll, to the extent possible, children with special needs. Charter schools are far more successful that public schools in the same catchment area, basically they are a triage model, a sort of “talented tenth;” however, if it wasn’t for charter schools all children would be receiving an unsatisfactory education. In a way we are a magnet school type option, and, we have put pressure on the local schools to improve in order to compete with us. We may not be “fair” to the neighborhood schools; our model is more than fair for the children we serve.

Not Baker’s words, clearly what Baker implied.

Why would a highly popular governor involve himself in a highly divisive fight?  Cuomo picked a fight with teachers, passed a number of anti-teacher laws, engaged in a war of words, lost the war, and is still scrambling to regain his credibility among teachers and parents.

I believe, maybe totally off base, that Baker is establishing a place on the Republican spectrum; the 2016 Republican contenders became pretenders. He is creating a place for a Romney/Reagan Republican appealing to the “old” Republican Party and the right of center Democrats.  When asked about the Affordable Care Act he acknowledged problems and saw the solutions among the governors.  He did not trash the law as others Republicans have taken as a reflex action.

His support of the question on the ballot is simply checking a box on the potential presidential candidate checklist.

He is a thoughtful, engaging speaker, and, quite popular in a state dominated by Democrats. The 2020 presidential race has begun before the 2016 race has ended.

How Might a Clinton or Trump Presidency Impact Federal Education Policy?

Every day the online New York Times prints the “odds,” expressed in a percent of the Clinton-Trump race – yesterday Clinton was leading 90% to 10%.

The election is no longer 24/7 all over TV screens; as we move towards September the baseball pennant races and the opening of the college and NFL football season are beginning to eat up the media air.

A few shots of a Clinton or Trump rally, a paid Clinton advertisement warning about Trump provoking a catastrophe and lengthy talking head reflections on San Francisco quarterback not standing for the national anthem as a protest against the treatment of Afro-Americans in America.

For large percentages of Americans election fatigue has set in.  There are probably very few undecided voters – yes, Republicans voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump and unenthusiastic Hillary voters … the electorate has chosen sides.

For the last few weeks my morning coffee crowd has moved from political chatter to renewed interest in the resurgent Yankees and Jets/Giants chances; quite sensible.

The last chance to address tens of millions of Americans will be the debates

First presidential debate (September 26, 2016, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY)

The debate will be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator and announced at least one week before the debate.

The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates will then have an opportunity to respond to each other. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.

Second presidential debate (October 9, 2016, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO)

The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which half of the questions will be posed directly by citizen participants and the other half will be posed by the moderator based on topics of broad public interest as reflected in social media and other sources.

Third presidential debate (October 19, 2016, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV)

Same format as first debate.

The last time a presidential debate changed minds was the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate.

Of course, to quote, Yogi, “It’s never over until it’s over.”

Both camps are already having internal discussions about cabinet choices.

On the education front the Department of Education is in the final stages of crafting the regulations for the new Every Student Succeeds Act, a Department of Education that will undoubtedly have a new leader no matter who wins the election. The proposed rules are highly controversial (See Ed Week cheat sheet here  and read the extensive criticism and suggestions from the NYS Commissioner Elia here.

One item hanging over New York State and Colorado, the only two states with significant percentages of opt outs; in both states many schools fell below the 95% participation rate and may face unspecified sanctions.

Should the current lame duck Secretary of Education make the decision or the next Secretary of Education? In fact, should the current Secretary of Education release the new regulations or leave it to the new administration?

I imagine in some quarters names for a successor to Secretary King are already being tossed around – not here. I’ll wait until the networks declare a winner on November 8th.

The entire election season, from the cavalry charge of Republicans and the Bernie/Hillary battles:  virtually nothing about education. The reason is not complicated – the American public is sharply divided. See Education Next polling result here.  Appealing to one faction alienates another.

We know a Republican would push for choice, i.e., charter, parochial, private and home schooling all eligible for public dollars. For example, Title 1 Portability, Title 1 dollars would follow the student to wherever the student is receiving education services. Of course, Trump could call for abolishing the entire Department of Education and sharp cuts in federal dollars.

The Democratic side is more complicated, while opt outs and others might want reduction or the end of testing civil rights organizations, allies of the Democrats are strong advocates of testing and the disaggregation of results by ethnicity, race and handicapping condition. One the other hand Clinton made very pro-teacher, pro public education speeches at both the NEA and AFT conventions, and, appears to have an excellent relationship with AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Check out Diane Ravitch’s web site – she will report a talk with Hillary.

Let’s win the presidency, the Senate and the House on November 8th – and then we argue over the future of the federal role.

Magic Bullets Equal Duds: Why Do Top-Down Educational Initiatives Rarely Succeed? Will ESSA Change the Face of Education?

I asked an astronomer friend whether the Juno spacecraft would find life under the frozen oceans of Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, he answered,

The frozen ocean is essentially the surface, it’s thought that the watery mantle of Ganymede might be within the range tolerated by extremophiles, but again, a lot of speculation has been done. 

Much heat and little light, or, when Sagan was asked “yeah, but what are your gut feelings?” he replied “I don’t think with my gut.”

Science is a process of enforced intellectual rigor (enforced by peer review) which requires going from known data toward new understandings. We fill in the pages of a blank book with observations, measurements, and analysis, and then try to elucidate new models of how nature works. 

Going from the “already filled in book” to elicit behavior changes is the province of religion. 

Sadly, education policy-making is in the realm of faith, not science.

The reformers abjure “enforced intellectual rigor” and make sweeping decisions that impact millions of students based upon the absence of peer reviewed “observations, measurements and analysis.”

The current and former US Secretaries of Education support a portfolio system of schools – public and charter schools competing with each other for students – the competition, they argue, will raise student achievement in both public and charter schools. The belief is loosely based on the theories of Nobel Laureate economist Milton Freedman,

 In a famous 1955 essay, Friedman argued that there is no need for government to run schools. Instead, families could be provided with publicly financed vouchers for use at the K-12 educational institutions of their choice. Such a system, Friedman believed, would promote competition among schools vying to attract students, thus improving quality, driving down costs, and creating a more dynamic education system.

The current day reformers cannot point to any evidence and, in fact the current system of public and charter side-by-side schools has not “raised all boats,” they may actually diminish student achievement.

In New York City another example is the rekindling of the “Reading Wars,” Chancellor Farina is a close friend of Lucy Calkins and “balanced literacy, her approach to the teaching of reading. Most experts are sharply critical of the Calkins’ approach and support the use of phonics to teacher reading. Friendship rules: the chancellor supports her friend (Read a discussion of the “Reading Wars” here)

Will a teacher evaluation system based on student test scores sort the best and the worst teachers and lead to higher student achievement?  Once again, there is no evidence, and, in fact, scholars tell us that value-added measurement is highly inaccurate and inappropriate for measuring teacher competency.

To make the realm of policy creation and implementation even more depressing is  when schools and school districts attempt to use the “wisdom and knowledge of experts” the attempts fail.

Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahie in Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better, argue,

… there is no universal mechanism in education for transforming the wisdom and knowledge experts accumulate as they work into a broader professional knowledge base … well-intentioned educational reforms across the ideological spectrum were unsuccessful because they were formed around a novel solution (such as the small schools movement, etc.,) rather than a practitioner-driven problem and were imposed from above without attention to the ways local conditions might require adaptation.

To address these two challenges, the authors argue that practitioners, policy makers, and researchers should collaborate across traditional organizational boundaries to engage in ongoing disciplined inquiry.

(Read a detailed description of the book here)

The authors lay out what they call “The Six Core Principles of Improvement”

  1. Make the work problem-specific and user-centered.

It starts with a single question: “What specifically is the problem we are trying to solve?” It enlivens a co-development orientation: engage key participants early and often.

 

  1. Variation in performance is the core problem to address.

The critical issue is not what works, but rather what works, for whom and under what set of conditions. Aim to advance efficacy reliably at scale.

 

  1. See the system that produces the current outcomes.

It is hard to improve what you do not fully understand. Go and see how local conditions shape work processes. Make your hypotheses for change public and clear.

 

  1. We cannot improve at scale what we cannot measure.

Embed measures of key outcomes and processes to track if change is an improvement. We intervene in complex organizations. Anticipate unintended consequences and measure these too.

 

  1. Anchor practice improvement in disciplined inquiry.

Engage rapid cycles of Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) to learn fast, fail fast, and improve quickly. That failures may occur is not the problem; that we fail to learn from them is.

 

  1. Accelerate improvements through networked communities.

Embrace the wisdom of crowds. We can accomplish more together than even the best of us can accomplish alone.

 In other words, there are no magic bullets. The “answer” is not the program; the answer is the competency and cooperation of the practitioners at the school, district and university level.

By competency I mean the ability to collaborate within and across schools, the ability to understand data and convert data into classroom practice, to become reflective practitioners. The New York City-based Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) encourages schools to break free of perceived or real constraints, to craft research-based solutions at schools with the guidance and support off labor and management.

The International Network supports twenty schools, fifteen in New York City, that work with English language learner high school students who have been in the country four years of less. The six year graduation rates match all other schools, the schools share instructional practices.

How do we seed fertile soils?  How do we prepare teachers and school leaders to use peer reviewed research to drive actual practice?  And, vitally important, how we create district leadership that supports schools and not constantly chase the magic grail, that magic bullet that has never existed.

There are highly successful schools, succeeding, frequently under the radar while schools with similar populations struggle.  Unfortunately the most successful principals, and occasionally superintendents must resort to practicing creative resistance, smiling, nodding, and continuing to do what actually works in spite of “higher ups” that chase that elusive secret sauce.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) devolves power from the feds to the states; states have until the spring of 2017 to create plans to address struggling schools: will states simply replicate the failed federal programs or actually create creative approaches to school improvement?

The New York State Legislature Adjourns with a “Whimper,”as Educational Policy-Making Moves to the Board of Regents

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

The last stanza of Eliot’s poem is an apt description of the end of the 2016 legislative session. The final days, called “the Big Ugly,” is a scramble, an endgame, the Republicans and the Democrats vying for an advantage as the state moves toward the November election. All the seats in the legislature, the 150 in the Assembly and the 63 in the Senate will be on the ballot. While the Assembly is firmly in the Democratic column the Senate is far more complex, and byzantine. The Democrats hold a single seat edge in the Senate (32-31); however five Democrats (Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, Tony Avella, David Valesky, and David Carlucci), the Independent Democrat Conference (IDF), under the leadership of Klein (Bronx) caucuses with the Republicans, giving the Republicans control of the Senate.

Hanging in the balance were mayoral control, campaign finance reform, removal of pensions for convicted legislators, online fantasy sports betting and scores of other bills.

You may ask: why is all this conflict and wheeling and dealing necessary? Why can’t legislators have civil conversations and decide the issues?

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary

The Constitutional Convention (1787) was not covered in CSPAN; the Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting. The only notes we have are Madison’s personal notes, not made public until after the death of all the delegates, The fifty-three delegates argued, came and went, delivered lengthy speeches, met in private, and made deals.

Slavery was one of the most significant stumbling blocks, the anti-slavery Northerners versus the slave-holding South, The compromise: slavery is not mentioned in the constitution, the question of slavery was left to the states, and, as part of a compromise; slaves were counted as 3/5th of a ”free person,” and referred to in the clause as “all other Persons.”

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Deal-making, as reprehensible as it may seem, is at the essence of making government work.

Whether to extend mayoral control in New York City had nothing to do with education. Weakening the mayor might give the Republicans a chance in the 2017 mayoral election. In spite of pleas from Merryl Tisch and others in the upper echelons of power Senate leader John Flanagan offered “unacceptable” plan after plan until in the closing hours an agreement was reached, the NY Times describes the plan as a one year extension plus,,

It would effectively create a parallel system of charter schools within the city, allowing “high-performing charter schools in good standing” to switch to join the State University of New York umbrella or the Board of Regents of the State Education Department.

Probably a meaningless change, currently charters schools authorized by both New York City and Buffalo make reauthorization proposals after five years, the authorizer, SUNY or the Board of Regents can reject the recommendation. The proposal allows the charter school, if it’s  “high performing and in good standing” to move directly to SUNY or the Regents for reauthorization.

The session is most interesting for what it did not do – the houses steered clear of legislation directing the State Education Department to take any actions. A host of education bills simply died. Neither the governor nor the party leaders had any desire to once again get involved in the morass of teacher accountability or testing, any of the issues that birthed the opt outs and/or angered teachers and their unions.

The budget was generous and the political leaders appear to be leaving the educational decisions to the educational leaders.

In December the Cuomo-appointed Task Force released their report with 21-recommendations: a blueprint for the Commissioner and the Board of Regents. The core of the report was a 4-year moratorium on the use of student test scores as part of a metric to assess teacher performance.

In the six months since the release of the report the Commissioner has made tests untimed, a recommendation in the report, established a number of large field-based committees to review elements of the Common Core, and, the Regents created a number of alternative pathways to graduation.

Quietly, very quietly, the Commissioner announced a change in the observation section of the teacher evaluation regulation. The outside observer would be scrapped – what might be a good idea in theory was both overly complex and a financial burden on school districts. There was no high drama – no headlines, simply an announcement undoubtedly based on quiet discussions.

The decisions before the Board of Regents are complex, politically explosive and without explicit answers.

Can you create a teacher evaluation plan that is acceptable to principals and teachers and not trashed by external critics?

Can better tests win back opt out parents?  And, what do you mean by “better tests?”

Will alternatives to testing, perhaps, portfolios or other performance assessments, be acceptable to the feds, and acceptable to the principals and teachers?  Are performance assessments practicable in actual classroom settings?

Will additional alternative pathways to high school graduation make students more or less prepared for college?

The Regents appear to have a window – three or four years – to make decisions based on their expertise as well as respond to external pressures and scrutiny, and, hovering aloft: “disruptive” solutions such as unlimited charter schools or vouchers.

Windows open, and windows close.