Tag Archives: Commissioner Elia

Who will become the next NYS Education Commissioner?

The July Board of Regents (BOR) meeting traditionally is a retreat, in the past held at the New York State Museum and other sites. The Board discusses a major topic for the upcoming school year. This year the topic was high school graduation requirements including the required exit exams, the five required Regents Examinations.  The Commissioner gives an update during the meeting. Commissioner Elia shocked the BOR members and the audience announcing she would be resigning effective August 31 to pursue other opportunities.

Elia was an activist commissioner who successfully grappled with creating a New York State Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, a plan that moved from assessing schools solely on proficiency to a mixture of proficiency and growth, in other words, crediting schools with improving student outcomes regardless of their base scores on state tests. Additionally skillfully guided the BOR through the rocky movement from rating teachers on student test scores to removing test scores from principal/teacher evaluations. Other issues were more contentious, increasing student teaching hours, moving away from the four required tests for prospective teachers, and moving from the 180 school day year to the 990 hour school year requirement.

The BOR members, former school superintendents and a number of former teachers are an activist board. Prior boards, non-educators, businessman, etc., acquiesced to the chancellor and the commissioner with only a few members questioning decisions.

Chancellor Rosa, a former New York City superintendent welcomed BOR members to participate in the debate, and the members responded. Debate is vigorous, stakeholders across the state included in work groups and blue ribbon commissions, thousands submitted comments on proposed regulations.

Contentious might be too mild a term, Op Out parents viewed Elia as unsympathetic and urged her to oppose testing more actively.

A major achievement is the New York State commitment to My Brothers’ Keeper, a core piece of the Obama education program.

 With the adoption of the 2016–2017 New York State Budget, New York became the first state to accept the President’s challenge and enacted the My Brother’s Keeper initiative into law. The budget included a $20 million investment in support of the initiative to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.

 New York State has a unique governance structure, a board elected by a combined meeting of both houses of the state legislature – effectively appointed by the speaker of the Assembly. Anyone can apply, open interviews are held and the local Senate/Assembly members make a recommendation to Speaker Heastie who has put forward the name suggested by the local electeds. Under the prior speaker the selection of BOR members was solely the prerogative of the speaker.

The governor plays no role and the education budget is set by the legislature and the governor.

In virtually all other states boards of education are appointed by the governor with consent of the state legislative body and the board selects the commissioner.

Under Chancellor Rosa BOR members have been “partners” with commissioner, partners that vigorously agrees/challenges/debates issues. The SUNY Board of Trustees, approves items with minimal debate. The BOR debate frequently moves from meeting to meeting, posted for public comment, amended, re-posted, the process can be laborious, consensus-building can be an arduous process.

The sudden resignation of the commissioner and the selection of a successor is challenging.

The Boston Globe reported that former deputy commissioner Infante-Green, who became the Rhode Island commissioner in the spring was offered the position, and demurred.

Beth Berlin, not an educator, was the deputy who actually ran the day-to-day operation of the State Education Department, was appointed as acting commissioner, and, some mused that Beth should actually succeed Elia with Rosa and deputy chancellor Brown playing a more activist role.

Berlin also demurred; announcing she would be resigning effective November 15th and moving on to another position.

Long Island superintendents are concerned, very concerned about the exodus of leaders at the State Education Department.

Three months have passed and the commissioner position has yet to be posted. It did take five months to search and hire Elia.

Should the BOR seek a national figure as commissioner to lead New York State? Or, would a national figure clash with an activist board?

Should the BOR select a current or recent senior New York State Superintendent with deep knowledge of the state, without any national credentials?

Does the ethnicity of the commissioner matter? Is it time for a Latinx commissioner?

Should the next commissioner be anti-testing?  Willing to seek alternatives to required grades 3-8 state tests and alternatives to the Regents Exams? Or, will challenging testing also be viewed as challenging federal laws and endanger federal funding?

Should the next commissioner seek more aggressively the transparency of charter schools?

Should the next commissioner lead a Maryland-like Kirwan Commission?

As states around the U.S. grapple with how to improve their educational systems, Maryland is taking an approach that some experts call a blueprint for the whole country.

The state is on the brink of becoming the first in the country to prioritize equitable distribution of funds among school systems — if state leaders can overcome the hurdles of legislative bureaucracy and stay the course.

The state’s so-called Kirwan Commission has put forward a $4 billion education funding proposal that would increase teacher salaries, bring in more counselors, improve career preparation programs, give extra support to schools serving children who live in poverty and expand free, full-day prekindergarten.

And, would Governor Cuomo want a governance structure that mirrors other states and includes gubernatorial appointees?

A challenging role for the BOR members.

Sadly, Regent Judith Johnson has passed away – Judith dedicated her life to fighting for the underserved; at meeting after meeting she reminded her colleagues and the state that New York State was failing the most vulnerable children. The New York State funding formula drives the most dollars to the wealthiest school districts. She was the conscience of the Board.

Census 2020: Political Clout and Dollars at Stake: A Lot of Dollars: How is New York City and State Responding?

Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution requires an “enumeration,” a census every ten years,

Representatives … 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 (meaning slaves). The actual Enumeration shall be made …  every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct

 On April 1, Census Day (minus one year) the Bureau of Census rolled out the plans for the 2020 census. An upbeat presentation by the Bureau of Census, the major change is that the bureau expects a significant percentage of census takers will respond online. The Bureau acknowledges the problem of an undercount, indigenous peoples, the poor, immigrants, hard-to-reach areas all present issues. Watch the presentation here .

The press conference was a lot less upbeat.

The administration budgeted one billion dollars less than requested, and, the major point of contention, a question dealing with citizenship status which could discourage participating in the census.

The citizenship question was challenged in the federal courts and, in a scathing decision the courts sustained the appellants and ruled the question inappropriate,

Plaintiffs proved at trial that, if the citizenship question is added to the 2020 census questionnaire, they will suffer serious harm in the form of lost political representation, lost federal funding, and degradation of information that is an important tool of state sovereignty.  And at least two of those injuries, the loss of political representation and the degradation of information would be irreparable, without any adequate remedy at law.

 Measured against these standards, Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census —even if it did not violate the Constitution itself —was unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons and must be set aside. To conclude otherwise and let Secretary Ross’s decision stand would undermine the proposition —central to the rule of law —that ours is a government of law and not of men” (John Adams, Novanglus Papers, No. 7 (1775).  And it would do so with respect to what Congress itself has described as “one of the most critical constitutional functions our Federal Government perform” (Read entire decision here.

The question may be decided by the Supreme Court later in the spring.

The Census will determine representation in the House of Representatives, New York State could lose two seats if the undercount is the same as in 2010, and, 55 federal programs are determined by population, New York State could lose a hundred  million in federal dollars. New York State receives 1.6 billion in federal education dollars.

Maya Wiley, an MSNBC contributor and a Professor at the New York School University made a troubling presentation.

,The 2020 Census will be the first on-line Census. It is grossly underfunded and the federal administration in Washington has raised significant concerns for immigrants, legal residents and other vulnerable people. The New School’s Digital Equity Laboratory has been working on a project to support greater collaborative work between libraries, community leaders and city governments in the New York region to support a fair and safe Census.

 The CUNY Mapping Service  lays out the data and the challenges: “low response scores,” population groups with increased risks of being undercounted,” “households with no computer or inadequate internet access,” by neighborhood.

The Bureau of Census, the advocates and the newly appointed New York City Census Director, Julie Menin are planning to work with libraries, and community organization, an excellent plan; however, why aren’t schools at the center of the plan?

I e-communicated with Julie Menin, and did receive a thumbs up.

There are 1800 schools, 1.1 million kids and over 100,000 highly motivated teachers and paraprofessionals. Schools have staff members to match the language of their students, and close relationships with families.

Why isn’t the Department of Education at the center of a census outreach plan?

The teacher union is enthusiastic and understands the vital importance; an undercount means loss of jobs and vital services to children and families.

In addition every high school senior must take a course entitled, “Participation in Government,”

This course aims to provide students with opportunities to become engaged in the political process by acquiring the knowledge and practicing the skills necessary for active citizenship. Content specifications are not included, so that the course can adapt to present local, national, and global circumstances, allowing teachers to select flexibly from current events to illuminate key ideas and conceptual understandings. Participation in government and in our communities is fundamental to the success of American democracy.

 The course can engage students in census field work across the city, a powerful tool to maximize participation in the census, a powerful activity to involve students in civics, in real, live activities.

While the census is a year away now is the time to create an inclusive plan.

The Specialized High Schools and the admittance test dominate the news cycle while the census is barely acknowledged.

I hope that State Commissioner Elia instructs her staff to post Census lessons on EngageNY as well as instruct school district leaders to provide census outreach in each and every school in the state.

I expect that Chancellor Carranza will appoint a census coordinator, a vital position considering what’s at stake.

Report from the NYS Board of Regents Meeting (1/14-15/2019) [High School Grads as Substitutes and Punishing OptOut Schools]

I have been attending the monthly NYS Board of Regents meetings for a decade, and, I tweet as fast as my fingers can tap @edintheapple.

The meetings begin in the ornate Regents Room, the walls lined with portraits of former chancellors, with one exception (Merryl Tisch), white men, mostly with facial hair. The Board of Regents has a long history, back into the late eighteenth century. Under current law the Board is made up of seventeen members, one from each of the thirteen judicial districts and four at-large. The Regents are “elected” by combined meeting of the legislature, effectively, by the democratic majority of the Assembly. The Regents serve a five year term and the position is unsalaried.

The initial meeting is live streamed and archived (Watch 1/14/19 meeting here), the committee meetings follow throughout the day. The meetings are a full day Monday and a half day Tuesday. The committee meetings are not live streamed.

The meeting always begins with the chancellor asking a board member to offer comments, a “moment of reflection,” the audience stands, I suspect in the distant past it was a prayer: quant.

The audience, state education department staff, lobbyists, representatives of education organizations (unions, school boards, etc.), and me. There is no opportunity for public comment, although during the breaks between meetings board members and audience members chat.

The meeting began with a presentation on a major new state initiative, this month, culturally relevant education, rebranded as Cultural Responsiveness and Sustainability Frameworks, see the PowerPoint here. David Kirkland, the director of the New York University Metro Center is the lead author, David and a number of superintendents and other organization leads spoke and supported the Frameworks. As is the practice the Frameworks go to public comments and back to the board for adoption.

Another resolution was added to the agenda in response to the DeVos withdrawal of the Obama letter on student discipline and suspensions. The resolution was read to the room, a strongly worded rebuke to the DeVos policy. (Read the full resolution here)

…be it hereby resolved that the Board of Regents reaffirms its commitment to continuing its efforts to ensure that all students have equitable access to learning opportunities in safe and supportive school environments free from discrimination, harassment and bias, including reducing dependence on exclusionary school discipline and increasing equity in education for all students.

 The board moved to the committee meetings, the first was K-12, among the items on the agenda was a change in the regulations dealing with the qualifications for substitute teachers. There are a small number of districts that can’t find substitutes for absent teachers, we’re talking about districts with 3-5 schools. The controversial section is below: yes, the commissioner is proposing that the requirement be reduced to a high school diploma.

To address the Board’s concerns, the Department is proposing to require uncertified substitute teachers to hold at least an associate’s degree or its equivalent to ensure that they have a minimum educational background. However, if no eligible substitute teacher with an associate’s degree or higher, or its equivalent, is available after a good faith recruitment effort has been conducted, the school district may request from the district superintendent (for districts that are a component district of a BOCES and BOCES) or the superintendent (for school districts that are not a component district of a BOCES) a waiver allowing them to employ an individual with a high school diploma, or its equivalent.

 The members were outraged and member after member rejected the proposal, after attempts to wordsmith the regulation it was removed from the agenda. I wanted to raise my hand and make other suggestions: a district substitute teacher reserve, meaning hiring an additional teacher, or two, or whatever is necessary, on a permanent basis to serve as a sub, or, use district office staff on a rotating basis, or, perhaps, try paying daily substitutes more money.

Next, an issue that has been bubbling for a week boiled over; the state will be releasing school accountability data in a few days; and, NYS has, by far, the largest OptOut numbers among all states, about 20% and over 50% on Long Island. (BTW, a very small number in NYC concentrated in a few high achieving schools).

SED provided districts with a 62-slide PowerPoint used to identify “failing” schools and a dense alghorhym. Regent Johnson, a former superintendent, attended the meeting in her judicial district and was outraged, she asked,

 “Will OptOut schools be punished?  Will  schools be designated as failing schools due to OptOuts?”‘

She demanded of the commissioner, “Yes or No?” The commissioner sidestepped.

The board was not happy.

If you want to get into the weeds, read a detailed explanation of the accountability metrics here,

The bottom line: OptOuts within subgroups resulted in lowering the achievement metrics pushing schools into the “failing school” (targeted or comprehensive school improvement) categories. The alghorhym used by the state to determine schools has been/ discredited by Bruce Baker, a frequent writer on education finance issues

On Tuesday morning I attended the Assembly Education Committee meeting under the new chair, Michael Benedetto, a retired career teacher. The first order of business of the legislative session was to pass, unanimously, all democrats and republicans supported, the teacher evaluation bill that returns the question of teacher evaluation to school districts. Read full test of the bill and accompanying memo here. The bill will move to the full Assembly and I expect similar speedy actions in the Senate.

Legislators are more than happy to return the thorny question of teacher evaluation to local districts, and, will be perturbed by the commissioner’s decision to “punish” OptOut schools when they were assured that opting out would have no negative consequences for schools.

When hordes of phone calls begin pouring in to legislator offices legislators will seek answers and this issue can become increasingly troublesome for the commissioner.

Hope this has been helpful. All questions and/or comments, of course, welcome.

What is News? How Do We Decide What News to Accept and What to Reject? Should News Be “Created?”  Why are George Orwell and Hannah Arndt Required Reading.

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Thomas Jefferson

A calamitous hurricane has inundated Houston, Paul Klugman writes “Fascism, American Style,” Nick Kristoff pens, “There Once Was a Nation With an Unstable Leader,” comparing Trump to the Roman Emperor Caligula, who was killed by the Praetorian guard. North Korea flirts with nuclear annihilation, the Supreme Court has veered to the right and we fear years of court decisions turning back the clock; and, principals reported to work in New York City today.

A week ago, in spite of  swirling eddies of impending doom the New York City Chancellor (what the leader of the school system in New York City is called – formerly the Superintendent of Schools) made her annual state of the schools speech, a speech laying out initiatives for the upcoming year. The head of the City University of New York (CUNY)  also laid out his plans for the college year. The sponsor, the online, City and State news daily news accumulator also moderated a number of panels.

Farina, explained four new initiatives, the CUNY chancellor a striking change that could dramatically increase community college completion rates, all unreported by the attending media.

During the panels the moderator asked Betty Rosa, the leader of the Board of Regents, her views of Daniel Loeb, the billionaire hedge funder and Chair of the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy board: Loeb compared the leader of the Democrats in the State Senate, an Afro-American woman to the Klu Klux Klan: Rosa sharply criticized the Loeb comment and called upon Eva to remove him from the Success Board. When the moderator asked about the SUNY proposal for “instant” certification of prospective teachers Rosa and Elia sharply criticized the plan.

City and State released a summary of the event: “ELIA, FARIÑA AND MILLIKEN ADDRESS EQUITY AND ESSA AT ON EDUCATION,” here

Watch a U-Tube of the Farina and Milliken presentations here

Listen to a podcast of the Rosa/Elia fireside chat here

In spite of a packed room, and the leaders of the city and state schools attending and making major speeches, the meeting was ignored by the print media, and, Chalkbeat, the online education site, focused on the Rosa/Elia comments, “State ed officials rip into ‘insulting’ SUNY charter proposal and ‘outrageous’ Success Academy chair.”

I was chatting with a news site editor a few years ago, “I remind my reporters, there are two kinds of stories, ‘if it leads it bleeds’  and ‘cute kids and little puppies’.” I was aghast, the editor laughed, “You get the stories you want, we need screen views, “Clicks,” you click on the most outrageous or the cutest stories and ignore just plain boring news stories.

Investigative reporters look for “scandalous” stories, stories that will attract page views, investigations border on advocacy, the line between news, editorial and op ed are blurred. Are Twitter and Facebook news sites?  How many of us receive our news from Daily Kos or Breitbart? Are presidential tweets news? Should news sites report the tweets or comment on the accuracy of the tweet?

Governor Cuomo rarely, very rarely, holds a press conference, he releases news statements, he makes brief announcements, he controls the press, and, the press seems content with the arrangement. Mayor de Blasio has an antagonistic relationship with the media, who reports on the antagonism, not the news. President Trump is at war with the press, he portrays the press as the enemy.

Where do you get your news? newspapers, online newspapers, web sites, online news accumulators, Facebook, etc.,?   How do you know what to believe and what to reject?

Every morning I sift through my inbox …. what to delete and what to read? and, what to comment on …. what to retweet, what to share ….

Perhaps we should reread classics that are particularly relevant today, George Orwell’s “1984,” shot to the top of the Amazon list shortly after inauguration (Read NY Times  “Why 1984 is a Must Read“) and  Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951) Read why Arndt is essential reading here.

I respect and admire journalists in this combative climate, and I caution us all to sift carefully, Big Brother is watching us.

Authentic Assessment: Will New York State Begin to Move from “Bubbling” to “Deeper Learning”?

Back in 2009 The New Teacher Project (TNTP) issued a report, The Widget Effect, school districts only rarely observed teachers or even attempted to discharge teachers.

“A teacher’s effectiveness – the most important factor for schools in improving student achievement – is not measured, recorded, or used to inform decision-making in any meaningful way.”

If we could “measure and record” teacher effectiveness, if we could identify the worst teachers and fire them we could improve student achievement. What we have seen is an unrelenting assault on teachers: use student test scores to assess teacher quality and remove tenure (See Vergara v The State of California here); make firing teachers easier.

The assumption that there is a long line of highly effectiveness teachers waiting to replace the “bad” teachers is ludicrous. In fact, 40% of teachers leave within their first five years of service, in high poverty, low achieving inner city schools the percentage of much higher; a revolving door of new teachers seriously impacts student achievement.

A perhaps well-intentioned reform, replacing “bad” teachers with new teachers had an unintended consequence,  a hugh unintended consequence. Since student test scores now drove teacher competence decisions, prepare for the tests, in fact, preparing for the tests became the driver of instruction.

In New York State the opt out movement exploded and eventually Governor Cuomo, to his credit, announced a four-year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher quality.

Couple the moratorium with the new ESSA requirement to create a new student accountability model and a window opens. Watch a webinar from the Learning Policy Institute laying out the opportunities under ESSA here .

Under the far more permissive regulations in ESSA, the new law states have wide discretion.

Teachers agree:  we should assess what we’re actually teaching?

In the ideal world, we teach a curriculum, a word that has virtually disappeared from the education vocabulary, we assess student performance periodically based on maybe a portfolio of work, a series of performance tasks, a lab report based on an experiment:  referred to authentic assessment:

A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills” — Jon Mueller

“…Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.” — Grant Wiggins

Performance assessments call upon the examinee to demonstrate specific skills and competencies, that is, to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered.” — Richard J. Stiggins.

The movement, frequently called “deeper learning,” supports the change from bubbling in multiple choice answers to “create and produce,” a Stanford University online (MOOC)  Massive Online Open Course describes performance assessments,

Whether students are learning to select, use, and explain evidence to support a claim or to analyze data to evaluate a hypothesis, tests that require that students only bubble in a scantron are inadequate to measure (or support) students’ learning and growth. Performance assessments are more suited to this task. Performance-based tasks require that students create and produce rather than recall and regurgitate. While performance assessments vary along multiple dimensions, including duration and focus, they all demand that students use and apply critical skills and knowledge to demonstrate understanding.

Stanford has created a performance assessment resource bank, , a rich repository for schools planning to move from bubbles to deeper learning.

I believe the state is edging in that direction; remembering the Common Core disaster. The introduction of the Common Core Learning Standards coupled with Common Core state tests angered everyone and saw standardized test score grades flip from two-thirds “proficient” to two-thirds “below proficient.”  Either teachers forgot how to teach and students forgot how to learn or the entire process was deeply flawed.

A “deeper learning” approach to teaching, the use of authentic assessments requires “buy-in” from schools and extensive teacher training. Keeping track of student progress in a class of twenty-five or thirty students can be onerous, a three-day test in April may be viewed as a lot easier.

We don’t have to use a “one-size-fits all” approach to teaching and learning. School districts or clusters of schools in the “Big Five” can opt in while other schools continue the more traditional approach.

Commissioner Elia has been extremely sensitive to the “field,” aka, the stakeholders; opportunities for consultations and engagement have been myriad. For example, the Higher Education Committee is moving toward recommending changes in teacher preparation regulations, there have been I believe ten open forums around the state, all the Deans, from CUNY, SUNY and the privates have been invited to be part of the process.

A reminiscence: an authentic assessment.

An alum is writing a history of the school at which I spent my career teaching and is interviewing former students and publishing the history in the alum bulletin.  I was surprised and overjoyed at one of her articles. Around 1980 I was teaching a Sociology class, and, decided to create an exercise: create a statistically correct (“stratified random sample”) survey of student attitudes and opinions, questions dealing  from homework, to pot-smoking, to condom distribution to the quality of teaching to race relations. We worked on the assignment for weeks, eventually presented the report to the Principal and invited him to the class to discuss the findings. When the alum interviewed the former students and asked them what they remember about their school career three of them referenced that assignment – more than thirty years earlier – think they remember what was on the Regents that year?