Tag Archives: Common Core

High School Graduation Requirements: The Regents Should Review Course and Testing Requirements in a Transparent Environment

With the changing of the guard, a new chancellor and vice chancellor and two new members, the Board of Regents have an opportunity to take the initiative instead of reacting. The agenda of the regents has been driven from Washington (the Race to the Top, Common Core, Teacher Evaluation), the governor (student test score based teacher evaluation, receivership, the recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force) and the opt outs (reduce the length of tests, limit the number of tests and find alternative to testing).

The regents and the current commissioner and former commissioners have been scrambling to increase scores on the required grades 3-8 tests as well as high school graduation rates.

The “solution” to high graduation rates has been backing away the single regents diploma. The two-day, three hour each day English Regent exam was reduced to a one-day three hour exam, the Global History Regents will move from an exam covering 9th and 10th grade to covering only 10th grade, the common core regents exams are being phased in over eight years (currently in year three), the scores are scaled. The “Four plus One Option allows a student to use an approved assessment (Read description here  and here) in lieu of a Social Studies Regents. The commissioner recommended a number of other ideas to ease the impact of the exams.

 In an effort to provide more pathways to graduation for New York’s diverse student population, the Department proposed to the Board new options that would provide students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in order to earn a diploma. These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result; establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS); and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams.

Perhaps the Board can use the leadership transition to explore the entire issue of course requirements, exams and types of high school diplomas. 

Should the state create a  new type of diploma for categories of students with disabilities who cannot pass five Regents?  Should the state create a type of diploma for general education students who pass courses, have excellent attendance and cannot pass a specific regents exam?

Half of students with disabilities graduate in four years, there are categories of SWD whose disability impairs their ability to pass a specific regents exam, in spite of the safety net. Can the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) allow for an alternative to a specific regents exam?

There are a category of general education students with excellent attendance, who pass courses and have failed a regents multiple times: can the state create a “valid and reliable” alternative?  How do you assure that the alternative is standard across the state? Will the alternative be scored at the same level of difficulty in Scarsdale and inner city Buffalo?

Should we revise the course requirements for a high school diploma?

The course requirement for high school students are specifically proscribed by state regulations (See Part 100.5 – the course requirements here). Should computer coding be considered a mathematics course in order to meet the required three units of mathematics? Should the “Four Plus One” option be expanded to other areas?  (BTW, how many schools offer the 4 + 1 option?)

Are the Common Core Regents too complex? 

The SED is in the process of phasing in common core regents exams and a recent report questions the impact of the Common Core Algebra 1 exam: “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam Threaten Graduation Rates?”  (August, 2015), the scale scores are not progressing adequately

BTW, How would you do on the Global History Regents exam?  Give it a try: click here.

Should the current forty schools with Regents portfolio waivers be expanded?

Since the early nineties the SED have granted a limited number of small high schools in New York City that are part of the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium,  waivers that have been reauthorized many times. SED is now proposing a different iteration of a performance-based assessment for students who pass courses and fail regents exams (see proposal here) Is the proposal another type of credit recovery? A diminution of standards?  Will the proposal actually discourage students from taking a regents exam?  Is an online project a reasonable replacement for a Regents exam?  A beginning of a move to competency-based education? Does a system in which students answer questions at computers actually assess competency? The SED defines Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) as “administration of PBA in a computerized and supervised testing situation,”  Is SED moving down a path to substitute PBA for Regents?

Graduation rates jumped one percent this year, however, disturbing percentages of high school graduates require remediation in college and really, really disturbing percentages of high school grads never graduate community college. Does “easing” the required exams  result in less prepared college students?

It’s time for the regents to become proactive: a transparent discussion across the state – let’s not sacrifice students to higher graduation rates.  Let’s explore all paths that prepare students for the world of college and work,  the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Decision (CFE), should be a guide,

In his decision, the trial court judge, Justice DeGrasse, followed the Court of Appeals’ directive to fill in the contours of the definition of a “sound basic education.” Justice DeGrasse took the Court of Appeals’ statement that students should be able to “function productively” as requiring that schools offer students the chance to obtain employment that would provide a living wage. He found therefore that schools should be required to offer students the opportunity to learn the kind of math, science, and computer skills that are often required in today’s society for competitive employment. He interpreted the Court of Appeals’ directive regarding civic participation as requiring that students have skills that would permit them to understand the kind of complex issues that they might be asked to evaluate as voters or jurors, such as tax policy, global warming, or DNA evidence.

 

Selecting New Members to the NYS Board of Regents: The Race Is On

As I am writing this morning I am watching the interviews for the Regent for the Syracuse Judicial District. The interviews for the At-Large seat will take place over the next two weeks.

I understand there are over fifty applicants – most for the At-Large vacancy.  The process is simple – send in a cover letter with a resume – there are no other qualifications. The interviews are convened by the Education and Higher Education committees of the Assembly. Any member can drop by and ask questions – the interviews run anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes.

The applicants range from retired teachers and other educators to parents and others involved in community organizations. Some have carefully spelled out agendas; others have long experience in education, and some just want to be part of the democratic process.

In the past the decisions were made by the Speaker and other senior members, the new leader of Assembly, Carl Heastie clearly allowed the electeds from within the boundaries of their Judicial District to play a major role.

The Board of Regents is a policy board; they hire the commissioner and set a direction for the department. The Board will select a chancellor from among their members at the March meeting.

I occasionally watch a CUNY Board meeting – the chancellor of CUNY races through the agenda with a nary a peep from the other board members. The Regents ask sharp. pointed questions and the discussion can be intense.

The Board of Regents is a busy and working board. The board is structured into committees, P-12, Higher Education, ACCESS (Adult Education), Arts, Special Education, Budget and the Professions. The Regents oversee public education, higher education, adult education, proprietary schools, libraries, museum and about fifty professions across the state.

The Regents meet monthly (except August) for a day and a half in Albany. The members are unpaid.

Some members serve as if they were full time; attending numerous community meetings while others hold full time jobs and spend more limited time.

While opting out of state exams and the state exams themselves have been major news items the Regents have a limited capacity to make any changes. The exams are required by federal law and federal regulations require 95% participation rates by sub-groups – with a threat of a loss of funding if a school falls below the required participation rate. The commissioner has provided each superintendent with a toolkit to use to urge parents not to opt out.

Is it the role of the Regents to get involved?

Some candidates are activists in the opt out movement and want the Regents to lead the anti-testing, anti-Common Core charge.

Others are primarily concerned with low graduation rates for English language learners – only 50% receive a diploma after 6-Year in high school. A Working Group to Improve Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color has created a legislative agenda to address low graduation rates for students of color, others are involved in addressing the new exams required for all teaching candidates, are the exams too difficult? Are four exams too many? Are the exams the reason for the sharp decrease in teaching candidates in college? Is the current five Regent requirement for a high school diploma too high? Should the Regents seek additional pathways?  Or, are we simply “watering down” the value of a diploma? Should the next round of testing reduce the time of the tests? Should the state seek a waiver from the feds to pilot performance tasks in lieu of universal standardized tests? Just an example of a few of the items on the table.

Regents members are bombarded with e-communications from constituents – how should each member respond?  Do the loudest voices represent the most pressing issues?  Who speaks for the English language learners, the undocumented who are afraid to speak, the poorest families who are not well-organized?

Over the last year the major educational initiatives have come from the governor; his budget included a radical change in teacher evaluation and a receivership approach to the lowest achieving schools, and, in September he appointed a Task Force who issued a 20-recommendation report – adopted by the Board.

The candidates represent a broad spectrum, Alan Singer, an active blogger and a strong supporter of the opt outs and their agenda, David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College professor and Hechinger blogger has been a frequent critic of the current NYC administration, I understand that Elizabeth Dickey, the past president of Bank Street and before that a long time administrator at the New School University is a candidate. Also, Joyce Coppin, a district and high school superintendent in New York City, head of the Leadership Programs at CCNY and Mercy College and a member of the Congregational Council at Trinity College; both with decades of leadership roles in education; other candidates are parents active in the opt out movement.

Some argue that the Board should be more diverse – more Hispanics, a member of the handicapped community, perhaps a college student.

Ultimately the decision will be made by the Speaker, with considerable input from members.  The formal election will take place in March at a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature; however, since the Democrats far outnumber the Republicans the decision will come from the Democratic Conference.

The Board has been remarkably free of political stain – I have been attending Regents meeting for a number of years and the decisions represent the views of the members, not any political caucus. If you ask me the political affiliation of any member I would no idea from their actions on the board.

Sadly, as I listen to the candidates most have no idea of the role of a board member and many are only vaguely aware of the current policy debates. For example, calls for moving away from annual standardized testing, “If I’m elected I would …..”   The law is the law, annual testing is required. The fight to move to grade span testing was lost.

We are seeing a sharp change in the composition and leadership of the board.  In April a new chancellor and vice chancellor and seven out of seventeen board members will have two or fewer years on the board.

While the Regents are the constitutional body tasked with setting educational policy the role has been preempted by the guy on the second floor across the street in the Capital building. For the members of the legislature the Sturm und Drang of education is troublesome. Over the next two years about 15,000 bills will be introduced by the members of the legislature – a few hundred will become law; very few will deal with education. The major items under consideration by the Regents are not legislative issues – the legislature does not vote on the Common Core, or, probably understand what it is … legislators want a board member who can take the heat … legislators want to tell a constituent to call their Regent, the “issue” or “problem” is not in their domain.

I have been impressed with the dedication of the members, I don’t always agree with them; however, they are thoughtful and question sharply. Fourteen of the members represent geographic areas around the state, three are At-Large, and members for the most part are readily available to represent the pulse of their community. Unfortunately funding and the equity of funding are in the hands of the governor and the legislature and day to day school operations in the hands of mayors and elected school boards.

I wonder why the members expend so much of their time and energy – it can be an enormously frustrating job, lots of criticism, not too much praise.  In most other states, boards of education at the state level are chosen by governors and the public has no input.

We are lucky to have seventeen citizens willing to dedicate themselves to improve outcomes for all the children of our state.

Untimed Tests. Fewer Questions: Will the Opt Out Families Be Assuaged? Suggestion: A Comprehensive Plan, Not Piecemeal Fixes

Within the last few days superintendents across New York State received a missive from Commissioner Elia announcing the federally required grades 3-8 English and math tests would have fewer questions and the testing would be untimed.

The announcement was a surprise, and, sharply criticized by the New York Post,

Fewer questions makes for a less-meaningful test — especially since the state inevitably “disqualifies” several questions every year after students have taken the exams.

Far worse, she’s ordered that the tests no longer be timed.

This is lunacy. Nowhere in the world do standardized exams come without time limits (though New York makes an exception for kids with certain disabilities).

You can make a case for giving all kids a bit more time — but killing limits makes no sense. It may help more children “pass,” but it won’t help any get a better education.

Tests are about gauging a student’s knowledge and skills — including the skill of time-management. Without time limits, they’re a far less accurate measure.

While the Post is virulently anti-teacher union and curmudgeonly; they’re not all wrong.

The release of the report of the Cuomo Task Force in December contained twenty recommendations, one of which related to the timing of tests. including

Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized tests aligned to the standards.

At the December meeting the Board of Regents voted (with Regent Tisch casting the only dissenting vote) to accept the report.

Instead of a “formal review,” as recommended by the Task Force the Commissioner announced that the spring tests would be untimed. Students with disabilities, if their Individual Education Plan (IEP) directs, already have extended time. English language learners with more than one year in the country must take the same tests as all other students and time limits may adversely impact their performance. The decision to lift the timed nature of the test for all students was surprising.

The reduction in the number of questions is an issue for the test makers, the psychometricians who design the tests. How many questions are required to produce a valid, reliable and stable exam?  Commissioner Elia, in defending the importance of the tests, argues that the tests indicate progress or lack thereof for students, individually, by grade, school and school district. With the information, the test results, teachers can adjust instruction to emphasize areas of poorer performance as well as highlight instructional practices that resulted in better performance.  Hopefully we embed assessment into our daily practice, usually referenced  as formative assessment, aka,  “…diagnostic testing, a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”  The state tests are summative assessments, tests that “measure” output, the teaching/learning process over a school year. For the school community  the only use of the tests is to “grade” individual principals, teachers and schools; using the summative assessment to fire (or reward) principals and teachers and to close schools.

The Cuomo Task Force, correctly, called for halting the practice until a new system can be crafted for the 2019-2020 school year.

This has been an odd year characterized by the Governor’s metamorphosis: from the angry, retributive April leader who punished teachers, principals and schools to the collaborative December leader who calls for a thoughtful approach to rethinking and restarting the revision process with the stakeholders: the education community. The twenty Task Force recommendations (see below) incorporate the wide range of criticisms that have swept across the state since the ill-considered John King attempt to impose change. Change is a process, change can be uncomfortable, change requires a space to discuss and debate, a space to acclimate ourselves to changes in direction.

The Task Force has provided us with that space – a number of years to find our path.

The Commissioner is anxious to start the process, and let’s be honest, anxious to reduce the number of opt out families.

If the reason to move precipitously to untimed tests is an attempt to assuage the opt out parents the commissioner is mistaken.

While it may be an unintended consequence (or, maybe not!!) summative testing as measured by year-end test scores drives classroom practice – if you don’t  “prepare” kids for the tests teachers and principals risk a low score and the dire consequences – test prep rules.  We continue to search for the happy median, rich, engaging classrooms in which students make progress both on measurable scales as well as the probably unmeasurable social and emotional scales.

One approach is to move from end of year summative assessment, the current system, to a performance task assessment conducted throughout the school year. In a thoughtful essay the new testing company, Quester, discusses the pros and cons (Read essay here)

A performance assessment is a test in which a student performs some number of tasks to show his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities in a particular area, such as conducting a science experiment. That is, a student must show how to solve a problem using what he or she knows about the assessment prompt. The best performance assessments are authentic, which is when the task is realistic and is considered something that would be done in the real world,

A performance task assessment system would require substantial changes in day-to-day classroom practices – I encourage the commissioner to explore, a pilot program in a few districts.

A far more radical change is a move to competency-based groupings, personalized learning, and incorporating technology into the core instructional process – highly controversial (Read a Quester essay here)

 … meet a number of 21st century teaching needs such as individualized and personalized instruction, personalized learning, competency-based grouping and progression, seamless blending of instruction and assessment, and timely impact of assessment results to affect instruction.

Do we believe we can create summative assessments, year-end tests that will be both accepted by parents and teachers as well as fit the needs of the State Ed, school districts, schools and teachers?

Are performance task assessments better indicators of student progress and more useful to teachers and parents?  Or, so complex and burdensome that the effort will not be fruitful?

Are we finally reaching a point when technology can be seamlessly blended with traditional classroom instruction?  Or, are we once again casting aside the social and emotional needs of children?

Let’s begin the discussion before we all hold hands and jump into the pool.

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Cuomo Task Force Recommendations

Recommendation 1: Adopt high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through an open and transparent process.

Recommendation 2: Modify early grade standards so they are age-appropriate.

Recommendation 3: Ensure that standards accommodate flexibility that allows educators to meet the needs of unique student populations, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

Recommendation 4: Ensure standards do not lead to the narrowing of curriculum or diminish the love of reading and joy of learning.

Recommendation 5: Establish a transparent and open process by which New York standards are periodically reviewed by educators and content area experts.

Develop Better Curriculum Guidance and Resources

Recommendation 6: Ensure educators and local school districts have the flexibility to develop and tailor curriculum to the new standards.

Recommendation 7: Release updated and improved sample curriculum resources.

Recommendation 8: Launch a digital platform that enables teachers, including pre-service teachers, and teacher educators, to share resources with other teachers across the state.

Recommendation 9: Create ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers, teacher educators, and administrators on the revised State standards.

Significantly Reduce Testing Time and Preparation and Ensure Tests Fit Curriculum and Standards

Recommendation 10: Involve educators, parents, and other education stakeholders in the creation and periodic review of all State standards-aligned exams and other State assessments.

Recommendation 11: Gather student feedback on the quality of the new tests.

Recommendation 12: Provide ongoing transparency to parents, educators, and local districts on the quality and content of all tests, including, but not limited to publishing the test questions.

Recommendation 13: Reduce the number of days and shorten the duration for standards-aligned State standardized tests.

Recommendation 14: Provide teachers with the flexibility and support to use authentic formative assessments to measure student learning.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized tests aligned to the standards.

Recommendation 16: Provide flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities

. Recommendation 17: Protect and enforce testing accommodations for Students with Disabilities.

Recommendation 18: Explore alternative options to assess the most severely disabled students.

Recommendation 19: Prevent students from being mandated into Academic Intervention Services based on a single test.

Recommendation 20: Eliminate double testing for English Language Learners

Students with Disabilities and High School Graduation: Can the State Create Additional Graduation Pathways Without “Tracking” Students?

The New York State Education Department today released high school graduation rates for the 2011 cohort (students who entered 9th grade in 2011). The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from 76.4 percent for the 2010 cohort.

Only about 50 percent of students with disabilities in the 2011 cohort graduated within four years.

(New York State Education Department Press Release)

Half of students with disabilities do not graduate in four years.  For decades the state offered a regents diploma and a local diploma alternative. The regents diploma required passing five regents exams (English, Science, Mathematics, American History and Global History); the local diploma required passing the Regents Competency Test (RCT), a test at about the ninth grade level. In the mid-nineties, after years of debate the state moved to a single regents diploma and began the phase-out of the local (RCT) diploma.

Currently the only diploma option is New York State is the regents diploma.

All students, regular education and students with disabilities (fka special education) must pass courses and exams to qualify for the regents diploma, except for the cohort of students with “moderate or severe” disabilities

There is a vast array of statute and regulation establishing the rights of students with disabilities and proscribing the types of education. The following is a summary of the requirements.

 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) … ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs …  the goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.

 The sections of the law requires an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Appropriate Evaluation, Parent and Teacher Participation, and Procedural Safeguards

The act requires that schools create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student who is found to be eligible under both the federal and state eligibility/disability standards. The IEP is the cornerstone of a student’s educational program. It specifies the services to be provided and how often, describes the student’s present levels of performance and how the student’s disabilities affect academic performance, and specifies accommodations and modifications to be provided for the student.

 IEP team must include at least one of the child’s regular education teachers (if applicable), a special education teacher, someone who can interpret the educational implications of the child’s evaluation, such as a school psychologist, any related service personnel deemed appropriate or necessary, and an administrator or CSE (Committee of Special Education) representative who has adequate knowledge of the availability of services in the district and the authority to commit those services on behalf of the child. Parents are considered to be equal members of the IEP team along with the school staff.  The IEP must place the student in a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) which provides “…access to the general curriculum to meet the challenging expectations established for all children” (that is, it meets the approximate grade-level standards of the state educational agency)

Simply put, the LRE is the environment most like that of typical children in which the child with a disability can succeed academically (as measured by the specific goals in the student’s IEP) and asks,

  1. Can an appropriate education in the general education classroom with the use of supplementary aids and services be achieved satisfactorily?
  2. If a student is placed in a more restrictive setting, is the student “integrated” to the “maximum extent appropriate”?

The general education classroom option is called a co-teaching classroom; a subject area teacher and a special education certified teacher in the same classroom, about a third of the students in the co-teaching classroom are students with IEPs. The special education teacher modifies the instruction pursuant to the IEP of the student.   Other students are placed in “more restrictive setting,” self-contained classrooms, with lower class sizes and frequently with a teacher aide.  There has been a sharp reduction in the number of self-contained classrooms.

Although the student with a disability may be entitled to additional time on tests, once again, pursuant to the IEP, the student must meet the same requirements as far as passing the required courses and regents exams.

The commissioner, in her presser, referenced a number of possible pathways to improve graduation rates for students with disabilities.

Whether these pathways comply with law is open to question.

 These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result;

The appeal/re-scoring option is rarely used and onerous, most school districts are unaware of the option, and, would the re-scoring increase a grade?

establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS);

The CDOS credential is not a diploma, the credential is offered to students in sites designed for “moderately and severely handicapped” students, such as BOCES sites in the state and District 75 sites in New York City.  It is unrealistic to expect that general education high schools could offer the credential (Read the description of the CDOS credential here)

and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams.

Forty high schools have a waiver from New York State to substitute a portfolio-roundtable system in lieu of the regents exams. (See the performance-based consortium (PBAC) website for a description here). The PBAC schools utilize a different instructional model – students work on performance assessed projects throughout the school year culminating in the submission of the portfolio with a roundtable of teachers and “critical friends” questioning the student and, using a rubric, assess the portfolio.

The danger is replicating the credit recovery debacle. Schools purchased a software package, such as Plato (See website here), the student worked at the computer with the general supervision of a teacher, and earned a credit.  Instead of the 54 hours required for course credit a student could earn a credit with substantially less time.  Creating a “project-based assessment” that is equivalent to a regents exam is a challenge.

These new options are intended to give all students—especially those with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and students at risk of dropping out—additional ways of earning a diploma while continuing to measure them against the State’s rigorous standards.

The commissioner suggests a number of alternative pathways, the source of the pathways are the IEP process. The IEP “specifies the services to be provided and how often, describes the student’s present levels of performance and how the student’s disabilities affect academic performance, and specifies accommodations and modifications to be provided for the student,” the members of IEP team determine the pathway.

Perhaps it is time for the commissioner to explore the creation of an alternative exam, a backup for the regents exam. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of students who can pass two, three or four regents exams, not all five, especially with the new Common Core exams. If a student with disabilities can pass all of their subjects, and not all of the regents exams, should they be deprived of a diploma?

Can the state create a diploma “with conditions” that are specified on the diploma?

Some would argue that this type of option should be available to all students; however, we must not create a “tracking” system. Our goal must be a regents diploma for all, with the realization that for some students, the pathway is not realistic.

It’s time for the state to begin a dialogue.

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa: Has the President and the NYS Board of Regents Accepted Responsibility for Years of Failed Education Decisions? Has Fear of Parent Electoral Anger Motivated the Electeds? Or, Just Hoping We Go Away If Tempted With Sweet Words?

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, colloquial translation, “My Bad.”

In the summer of 2008 I sat in the audience at the AFT Convention just after the nomination of Barack Obama and watched a 12-minute Obama campaign video – it was odd, it failed to address core educational issues.

Two years later I sat with a room full of principals and watched David Coleman perform his lengthy rollout of the Common Core – a detailed analysis of the Martin Luther King “A Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” interesting, and, once again, odd. At the end of the performance, Coleman answered a few questions from a group of teachers – one asked, “How does this differ from what we’re already doing …?”Coleman snapped, “…compared to other nations (PISA Scores) we’re not doing well at all.” Not exactly the way to gain buy-in from teachers

The President was at a Town Hill meeting and a teacher in the audience asked why he was supporting high stakes testing and punitive teacher evaluation – Obama challenged the teacher – you admit there are teachers in your school who shouldn’t be teaching, was bullying a teacher building teacher support?

The Association for Better New York (ABY) sponsors a breakfast every spring, a high profile speaker, an audience filled with the movers and shakers in New York City/State. Randi Weingarten was the speaker, with NYS Commissioner John King in the audience; Randi called for a moratorium on Common Core testing – to no avail – King and most of the members of the Board of Regents endorsed immediate Common Core testing, no moratorium, and cut scores that resulted in two-thirds of test takers scoring “below proficient.”

For seven years the President was wedded to the Duncan mantra: choice, which means charter schools, the full implementation of the Common Core, high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluation based on pupil growth scores (Value Added Measures, aka VAM). In spite of teacher and parent angst, in spite of millions of hits on the Diane Ravitch blog, the Duncan playbook was the Obama playbook, until it wasn’t.

The New York Times reports,


Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, … “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Why has it taken seven years for the President to realize they were on the wrong side of history? Why did the announcement come a few weeks after Duncan’s resignation?

Unfortunately the decision-makers today are lawyers and economists, not historians.

George Santayana, the early 20th century philosopher wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Harold Howe, a former United States Secretary of Education muses, ” … sometimes the unforeseen effects, of concepts for change like ‘restructuring’ schools, ‘systemic’ approaches to changes in schools, and the pros and cons of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ prescriptions for what to teach and how to teach it. My own sense of this new vocabulary about school reform is that to some extent it has assumed the same role as the prayer book of the Episcopal Church — by repeating the words you are supposed to be improving yourself and the world around you.”

Almost twenty years ago David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote “Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform,” (Read a superb summary/review here). The authors peruse the seemingly endless school reform initiatives over the last century and conclude that, regardless of the quality of the reform the initiative must have the support of teachers and parents; change, or reform, only, grows from the inside. In other words, reforms driven from the top down, unless accepted in classrooms will wither; new ideas may be planted from above, they must be fertilized and cared for in the classrooms and in the homes.

A few days ago the leader of the Board of Regents acknowledged the intense criticism of the newest iteration of the teacher evaluation law in New York State.

Newsday reports,


One of New York’s top school policymakers called Monday for potentially revamping a controversial law that allows student scores on Common Core tests to count for as much as half of teachers’ and principals’ job evaluations.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, told about 500 school board members attending a state convention in Manhattan that the toughened law, pushed through the legislature in April by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is “full of problems.”

The chancellor said lawmakers should “reopen” a section of the law that increases to about 50 percent the maximum weight that local school districts can assign to so-called “growth” scores in judging teachers’ classroom performance. Such scores are based on student performance on English language arts and math assessments, and are generated by a complex formula that many analysts consider statistically unstable.

The New York State Commissioner of Education has begun a review of the Common Core and the Curriculum Modules, the widely criticized units that drive instruction across the state. If you want to comment on the modules click here: https://www.engageny.org/content/curriculum-feedback-form

If you want to comment on the Common Core click here to go to the State Ed Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NYStateEd?fref=ts

Does this mean that sanity is beginning to return to the school system in New York State; or, to schools across the nation, or, is all this pomp and circumstance a trompe d’oeille, a facade to lull us into complacency?

This is considerable cynicism.

We’ll see over the weeks and months ahead. In New York State the Governor and State legislature are leaning on the Board of Regents and the Commissioner – make parents happy, or, at least happier. Stem the Opt Out tide; erode the 200,000 parents who are potentially ready to vote for change at the polls.

I believe the tidal wave of parent anger will be difficult to assuage: Obama, Duncan, Cuomo and the wave of so-called reformers may have created a hydra ( … It possessed many heads … and, each time one was lost, it was replaced by two more. It had poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly) and those heads keep growing and spewing electoral poison.

The Cuomo Common Core Task Force: Can the “Adults in the Room” Create Policies to Improve Outcomes for All Students? Can Sensible Politics Trump Failed Politics?

The parents of over 200,000 students in Grades Three through Eight in New York State opted not to take the state exams in April, 2015. The Internet is ablaze with criticism of the Common Core and the state tests. The Long Island Opt Out Facebook page explains how to opt out of all state exams (“Refusal Letter”) and comment after comment challenges the state – from snarky to nasty to downright crude.

Hundreds of thousands of parents, concentrated in suburban school districts, angry, not tied to any political party are worrisome. Next fall the 150 members of the state Assembly and the 63 members of the state Senate are on the ballot. Can the Opt Out parents organize themselves and toss out an elected? Governor Cuomo’s favorability ratings have nose dived.

Cuomo’s favorability rating stands at 49 percent, down from 53 percent in late May. Forty-four percent of voters view Cuomo unfavorably, according to the poll. It is the first time since 2007 that Cuomo’s favorability numbers have dropped below 50 percent.

What is the Common Core and why has it become so toxic? On the face the core appears bland.

The Common Core website offers a simple definition,

The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.

Were the prior standards not high quality? What makes the Common Core standards different from the prior set of standards?

Let’s take a look at a few First Grade Literacy standards,

* With prompting and support, read prose and poetry of appropriate complexity for grade

* Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.

* Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.

Are these standards “age appropriate” for a six year old?

The six year old that I know might excitingly explain the “differences between books that tell stories and books that give information,” or, she might tell you she wants to draw a picture, or, she’s much more interested in talking about the latest cartoon she watched, or talk about dinosaurs.

If the child can’t or won’t exhibit the skills, the “learning goals,” is the kid, “below proficient?” No, she’s just being six years old.

The First Grade standards might not be age inappropriate and the critics might be right.

The legislature, feeling the heat, directed the Board of Regents to examine the Common Core Standards, and, Governor Cuomo decided that perhaps one way to bump up his rating was to re-establish the Cuomo Commission that had issued a report in January of 2014 after almost a year of hearings around the state. The Commission, now called a Task Force, and the original 25 members, pared to fifteen members,

Governor Cuomo: “The State’s learning standards must be strong, sensible and fair, and parents and teachers should be able to have faith in those standards. This Task Force will ensure that this becomes the reality.”

Richard Parson, the chairman of the Task Force opines, “By performing an in-depth review of everything from curriculum to testing, we can lay out exactly what needs to be done to fix the Common Core.”

The Task Force is directed to,

1. Review and reform the Common Core State Standards;

2. Review New York State’s curriculum guidance and resources;

3. Develop a process to ensure tests fit curricula and standards;

4. Examine the impact of the current moratorium on recording Common Core test scores on student records, and make a recommendation as to whether it should be extended;

5. Examine how the State and local districts can reduce both the quantity and duration of student tests, and develop a plan whereby districts include parents in reviewing local tests being administered to analyze those tests’ purpose and usefulness; and

6. Review the quality of the tests to ensure competence and professionalism from the private company creating and supplying the tests.

The reality: the Common Core State Standards belong to the Common Core organization and are copyrighted!!! Can they be changed? The answer is a little vague, An official from the organization that owns the copyright avers, ” … as a rule of thumb, states are encouraged to add no more than 15 percent to the standards. Otherwise … it would negate the “commonness” of the standards.” Can a state delete sections of the standards? Do these changes, adding, deleting or changing require the approval of the copyright holder? Or, does New York State have to rechristen the “new” set of standards?

How large is the staff of the Task Force? Will the Task Force work for a few months, a year, two years? Will the new Common Core standards or whatever they are called be piloted?

How will the new standards impact the state tests? It probably takes a year or so to create a new test based on new standards.

You undoubtedly noticed that in the presidential candidate debate, on both sides of the aisle, there was not a single question or comment regarding K to 12 education; any position on education garners supporters and egg throwers – candidates, not wanting to alienate any voters are choosing to avoid the topic altogether.

For Cuomo and the legislature the problem is recouping, how do they remove education from the front burner? How do you assuage the Opt Out parents, to the extent possible steer clear of the charter wars, win back teachers and their union, and get back to the old days when the only issue was more money for school districts?

The plan seems to be:

The new teacher evaluation law (3012-d), passed as part of the April 1st budget package was amended at the September Regents meeting triggering a new 30-day comment period (an appeal process was added), and, there is talk of another amendment at the October meeting. Without a completed plan many districts would apply for the 4-month waiver moving the due date for plans back to March 15th, allowing the Governor and the legislature to amend the process.

Whether the reason for the common core kerfuffle is faulty implementation or deeply flawed Common Core Standards, whether the fault lies at the feet of former Commissioner John King or Chancellor Merryl Tisch or the entire Board is irrelevant – how do you win back parents and teachers? The goal of the Task Force, a total overhaul of the standards, the testing program and the nonexistent state curriculum is quite an undertaking.

Back in my old school yard stickball days we’d call it a “do over.” A ball would hit a crack in the street and take a crazy bounce and the fielder would yell “do over!”

Easy to yell, not easy to accomplish.

For some the only acceptable result is US Attorney Preet Bharara leading Cuomo out of the Executive Mansion in handcuffs, and, considering the political climate, not impossible. For the Opt Out parents anything that results in a required exam is not acceptable.

For teachers a testing regimen that reflects the curriculum they are expected to teach and standards that they feel are within reach of the students they teach would be a major improvement.

For the legislature the specter of an angry Opt Out parent running against an incumbent Assembly member or Senator is a nightmare. For the Governor, continually declining favorability ratings as the teacher union and parents hammer away tarnishes ambitions.

There is a chance, an opportunity, for the adults in the room to repair an education landscape pockmarked by the craters of exploding policies put in place to satisfy a certain President or Secretary of Education or deep-pocketed funder.

Maybe the adults can “do over” a host of failed policies and return the state to creating policies that improve outcomes for all students.

The Failure of Arne Duncan: How President Obama Placed Friendship Above Sound Education Policy and Stained His Legacy.

Presidents and Congresses look for sweeping solutions for the issues/problems confronting America; after World War 1 Europe spiraled into a depression and rampant inflation that slowly inched across the Atlantic. In October, 1929 the stock market crashed and our economy disintegrated. President Hoover, following the conservative economic views of the day, was aloof, the government did not intervene in the economy, the “invisible hand” would correct the economy, direct government intervention was both unnecessary and the wrong path.

… the nation was deep in the throes of the Depression. Confidence in the old institutions was shaken. Social changes that started with the Industrial Revolution had long ago passed the point of no return. The traditional sources of economic security: assets; labor; family; and charity, had all failed in one degree or another. Radical proposals for action were springing like weeds from the soil of the nation’s discontent. President Franklin Roosevelt would choose the social insurance approach as the “cornerstone” of his attempts to deal with the problem of economic security.

In 1935 the Social Security Law established a safety net for all Americans, upon passage of the law FDR opined,

“We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”
President Roosevelt upon signing Social Security Act.

Thirty years later President Lyndon Johnson, as an amendment to the Social Security Law passed the Medicare and Medicaid programs. “The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older and Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage for certain low-income people.”

In the same year, Johnson, a former teacher, a mere three months after the bill was introduced passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law states,

“In recognition of the special educational needs of low-income families and the impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local educational agencies to support adequate educational programs, the Congress hereby declares it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance… to local educational agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means (including preschool programs) which contribute to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children”

The “financial assistance,” provides billions of dollars to school districts with high percentages of low-income families; the dense law attempts to prevent school districts from supplanting tax levy funding, and, the actual impact of the law has from time to time been subject to question.

In 2002 President Bush, in partnership with Senator Edward Kennedy passed a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and renamed the law No Child Left Behind.

Under the NCLB law, states must test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And they must report the results, for both the student population as a whole and for particular “subgroups” of students, including English-learners and students in special education, racial minorities, and children from low-income families.

States were required to bring all students to the “proficient level” on state tests by the 2013-14 school year, although each state got to decide, individually, just what “proficiency” should look like, and which tests to use.

Under the law, schools are kept on track toward their goals through a mechanism known as “adequate yearly progress” or AYP. If a school misses its state’s annual achievement targets for two years or more, either for all students or for a particular subgroup, it is identified as not “making AYP” and is subject to a cascade of increasingly serious sanctions:

Although the effectiveness of ESEA/NCLB is open to question it has strong support, billions of dollars are driven to schools and school districts across the nation. Every representative and senator will support legislation that provides dollars to his/her district.

The reauthorization both continued Title 1, thereby assuring the support of both sides of the aisle and imposed the testing/sanction sections.

Ted Kennedy, the iconic liberal democrat from Massachusetts was the prime sponsor of the bill. While the opposition mounted the bill garnered retained support, from the testing industry and a strange coalition of civil rights organizations that saw the subgroup data as essential to keeping the spotlight on the subgroups and reformers who supported using testing data for teacher accountability.

Arne Duncan was in a unique position, he had the total support of the President and a legislative path to sweeping education reforms did not appear to be possible.

Roosevelt passed legislation that protects seniors both on the income side and the healthcare side; while the far right might trash Social Security and Medicare the legislation is firmly in place. Lyndon Johnson took the next step: Title 1 of ESEA is also firmly embedded in school districts across the nation.

Duncan’s plan was brilliant and devious, and, he didn’t need Congress.

David Coleman, the prime author of the Common Core State Standards, using what is called New Criticism and Literary Textual Analysis wrote new standards under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association. The governors in 46 states adopted the standards and the testing industry created new CCSS tests. The very core of education was changed without the involvement of any legislative body.

Duncan dangled 4.4 billion dollars in a competitive grants, “Race to the Top,” the competitive grants required the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the adoption of a teacher evaluation plan based on the growth scores on student tests scores and choice, aka, charter schools.

Teachers and parents pushed back, anger grew and President Obama steadfastly supported Duncan.

If you listen to Duncan, see three minute U-Tube, his policies on testing seem to be reasonable.

Duncan’s ideas can be reduced to creating competition among schools, a perverse educational Gresham’s Law, “good school will drive out bad schools.” Highly successful schools, charter or public will drive out, will close ineffective schools. Of course, online for-profit charter schools are fine, tossing out low performing or discipline problems ignored (“backfill”), and the large charter networks with deep philanthropy were praised.

In order to survive high poverty, low performing schools, will get better with the threat of charter schools. There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Milton Friedman approach to education would actually improve schools.

Link student test scores on the new Common Core tests to teacher performance; put the fear of the gods into teachers.

Arne Duncan will not go into history books as the FDR of education nor will he inherit the mantle of LBJ, state after state is backing away from the Common Core; the revolt against testing grows across the nation.

The lesson: no matter how close the friendship, no matter how loyal the friend: beware. Arne Duncan, your basketball buddy, an elite upbringing, jumped onboard the worst of the education reform ideas. As Linda Darling Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, renowned researcher after researcher questioned the Duncan agenda, Obama never strayed from supporting his friend.

John King, a Duncan acolyte will follow the Duncan agenda for the remaining year.

The failure of Arne Duncan will make a fascinating dissertation topic.

Can the Regents, the Legislature and the Governor Agree Upon a New Path that Will Assuage Opt-Out Parent Anger? Windows Open/Windows Close – Who Are the Leaders?

There are moments in time, in history, a window opens; an opportunity for change and, occasionally the leadership is right and history changes direction.

After seven bloody and frustrating years we won the revolutionary war, or, to be more accurate, with the crucial assistance of our French allies, we won the key battle that convinced the British to abandon the war.

Our first government, the Article of Confederation (excuse me, I’m a history teacher) created an amalgam of states, not a coherent nation. There was no president, Congress could not levy taxes, the states, the former colonies, had separate currencies and there was no military, all decisions required the approval of all of the thirteen states. As the not yet so United States of American stumbled along the Brits were convinced that it was only a matter of time before the colonies would ask to come back to mother England.

George Washington, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton plotted. The Constitutional Convention, called to tweak the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation was used by Washington, Madison and Hamilton to craft our constitution. Large states and small states, slave states and free states, plantation owners, farmers and craftsman argued from April to September and against overwhelming odds actually produced our governing document. Madison and Hamilton, with John Jay wrote the eighty plus essays supporting the ratification of the constitution that we call The Federalist Papers.

A narrow window, incredible leaders.

John F Kennedy’s election in 1960 presaged a change in direction for the nation. The “bright, shining moment,” the Camelot years, JFK and Jackie were the “King and Queen,” however the long list of progressive legislation was languishing in Congress. Lyndon Johnson had been a conservative senator from Texas who only ended up on the ticket to woo southern voters; however, as Robert Caro’s masterful biography chronicles Johnson was the right person at the right time – he guided the Kennedy legislation, from voting rights, to public accommodation to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act through what had been a recalcitrant Congress.

A narrow window, the perfect person with the perfect skills.

At the Camp David Summit in 2000 President Clinton, Israeli President Rabin and PLO leader Arafet came within inches of a peace accord, and, months after the talks failed; Arafat launched the second Intafada. Fifteen years later the Middle East is still aflame and the Iran Nuclear Treaty will either begin a path to peace or a path to the destruction of Israel.

A narrow window, leadership failed.

With the hubris that comes with the mantel of leadership, the scepter and orb of the presidency, President Obama and his lifelong friend decided to reshape the education system across the nation, to hurdle over state education departments and school boards and unions and parents, Obama/Duncan knew what was best for children; the establishment, the “ancien regime” only stood in the way of progress, a revolution was necessary, the only way to end poverty was to create highly effective schools and the old guard had to be skirted and/or removed.

3.4 billion in Race to the Top dollars dangled, with strings, student growth score -based teacher evaluation, school choice, aka, charter schools, the erosion or elimination of tenure, full adoption of the Common Core, weakening of teacher unions, higher standards for prospective teachers, “waivers” to control state policies, and an endless array of policies and intrusions to control education from top to bottom, from Washington directly to classrooms.

John King, Arne Duncan’s surrogate in New York State jumped into the Commissioner’s chair when David Steiner precipitously resigned. In spite of a few critical voices the majority of the Board of Regents allowed King to run unchecked: Race to the Top, Common Core, growth score influenced teacher evaluation, high cut scores for the new teacher exams and the “pushed off the end of the diving board” switch to the Common Core grades 3-8 exams. It certainly looked like the Obama-Duncan education agenda had been moved to New York State, the Empire State was to be the proving ground for the new world of education reform, according to Arne Duncan.

Suggestions that the new Common Core test items should be phased in or the standard-setting should be adjusted to allow for the sea change in instruction that would be required was ignored. Randi Weingarten, in a major address before the movers and shakers, with King in the audience called for a moratorium, allow a few years for the kids and teachers to absorb the standards, no dice.

King’s “listening tour” was halted as the meetings became opportunities for communities to flail King, and, King responded by blaming “outside agitators,” further inflaming angry parents.

Cuomo’s decision to show the teachers, and everyone else, that he’s in charge, only poured napalm on already flaming embers. Embracing charter schools and their dollars, imposing yet another obtuse teacher evaluation plan, increasing probation for new teachers, only succeeded in angering the education community, not coweringing the education community.

An unintended consequence is the explosion of the opt-out movement – one in five children opted-out of the state tests – over 200,000 kids, and, a hell of a lot of angry parents, parents concentrated in middle class districts on Long Island and some suburban communities upstate – the opt outs are the sans culottes, the foot soldiers of a new revolution. The anger of the opt-outers is directed at the electeds who they hold responsible for polices emanating from the governor and the regents.

The legislature responded by dumping two of the most senior regents members, members who had not uttered a word of criticism as King rolled over the Board. Bennett and Dawson campaigned hard, to no avail.

The message from the democratic-controlled Assembly was clear – we want change – we may not be able to stand up to the governor- we want the regents to remove the anger – do what you can to pacify, mollify, assuage the angry parent opt-out voters; although we really don’t know what we want you to do.

At the Wednesday (September 15th) regents meeting the six members of the opposition caucus, the four newly appointed members (Collins, Chin, Johnson and Ouderkirk) and the members who have consistently challenged the King agenda (Cashin and Rosa) voted against the new, new teacher evaluation plan (3012-d). Each made a brief, passionate statement; the messages: growth score (VAM) based teacher evaluation plans were neither scientifically acceptable nor good for teachers and children. Regent Tilles responded, he agreed with the dissident six on every point; however, the law would deprive districts of increases in state aid if the regulations were not approved injuring the very children the six were committed to help. The motion passed and the regents asked the key question: if we all agree that the new plan (3012-d), the over reliance on growth-based (VAM) score was wrong – what next? Tilles supported creating a new teacher evaluation system without the worts of the current plan, and, the regents directed the commissioner to create such a plan by the end of the year – in time to submit to the new legislative session.

The governor has signaled; he will create a commission to review the Common Core, and, when asked about a change in the regulations to allow a teacher to appeal their growth score he had no objection.

In other words a window is open.

The governor, the legislature and the regents all want a system that will assuage the anger; however, what is that system?

Can the new commissioner, who is still hiring key staff actually “make magic”?

As the Obama-Duncan onslaught loses steam are there leaders in New York State who can come together to turnaround the misdirected current waves of senseless reform?

The Republicans have a very narrow majority in the Senate – will the opt-out voters blame the Republicans for the supporting Cuomo actions? If so, Democratic strategists might say, “Let’s not resolve anything and drive the opt-out voters to the Democratic side.” Conversely, the opt-out voters are not party-driven and may vote to throw out all of the incumbents, Republicans and Democrats, unless a “solution” is found.

How much change will the governor buy-in to? He can’t support anything that looks like a defeat.

Teachers despise Cuomo, anything he supports teacher oppose … the chances of enacting a Mayan ritual of ripping his still beating heart out of his chest appears unlikely. The elephant in the room, lurking in every corner is the property tax cap – districts all over the state are being squeezed, cuts every year in programs, layoffs of staff, with no end in sight.

Washington, Madison, Hamilton and Lyndon Johnson are only memories – is there a leader, or leaders, who can reverse the tide?

Windows open, and close.

“All politics is local,” Will Governor Cuomo Listen to the Folks in the Provinces?

“All politics is local,” Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House (1977-87)

Presidents, senators, speakers of the house, governors, political parties and the hordes who spin fight for the hearts and minds of the American people, well, at least the less than half of the American people who bother to vote.

The election cycle never ends.

Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration, response to the Russians in the Ukraine, fighting ISIS, and on and on, each side tries to “win” the intellectual and visceral fight, from Fox on the right, to CNN to MSNBC on the left; however, networks and cable stations no longer have the influence they once had.

Newspaper sales decline every year, cyberspace is the battlefield. Americans get their “news” from websites, from Facebook, and, increasingly from Twitter. Hashtags rule.

Slowly and inexorably the fight over education appears to be tilting against the Obama/Duncan/Cuomo agenda.

Rubin Diaz is the Borough President of the Bronx, an anachronistic elected position, with the demise of the Board of Estimate in 1990 the borough president has no vote and no control over legislation or budgets, the borough president is the cheerleader for their borough. Diaz is highly popular and dependent on the governor, the state legislature, the mayor and the council to fund projects. In his sixth State of the Borough address, a long list of job creation achievements, new housing and economic development projects, he added the line, “Children shouldn’t be defined by one test.” The line was greeted with applause from the hundreds in the audience.

Thirty-plus Republican members of the NYS Assembly introduce a bill to discontinue the Common Core,

Section 1 of the education law is amended by adding new section 115,
which shall discontinue implementation of the common core state
standards.

While the bill will not move in the Assembly, 106 members in the 150-seat Assembly are Democrats and the Assembly, similar to the House of Representatives, is driven by the majority party. The Republicans have seized upon a popular issue, especially in the suburban districts. The bill was widely applauded on blogs across the state.

Amy Paulin is an outspoken and widely popular Democratic member of the Assembly. When Regent Harry Phillips, after many terms of outstanding service announced he will not be seeking a new term Paulin and her colleagues in the judicial district (Westchester, Rockland, Duchess) organized public interviews for candidates for the vacancy. I believe fourteen candidates participated in the public interviews. In the past Regents were selected in backroom wheeling and dealing. A year ago Regent Jackson was dumped and replaced by Regent Finn, with no public input. With the change in Assembly leadership sunlight appears to spreading across the state.

Paulin authored a letter to Chancellor Tisch, following the pattern of Malatras letters to Tisch (Malatras is the Governor’s top policy advisor who penned two confrontational letters to the chancellor). The letter, with the signatures of five other Assembly members, (see entire letter below) trashes the governor’s proposal re changing the teacher evaluation law.

In his third term Mayor Bloomberg decided to confront teachers and their union, issue after issue, battles back and forth, and the public increasingly began to support teachers over the mayor, In May, 2013,Sol Stern in the City Journal reported,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents [to a Zogby poll] said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Local politics is tilting toward teachers, in the waning years of the Bloomberg administration the public appears to be tilting against Cuomo’s education agenda. When electeds ask, “should I support the governor’s education agenda or ‘people’s agenda’?” more and more electeds are choosing to stand with their constituents.

Siena College polls reports, “By a 15-point margin, 49-34 percent, voters say implementation of Common Core standards should be stopped. Voters also say they trust the State Education Department (SED) and the Board of Regents to set education policy far more than they trust the Governor or Legislature.”

Five weeks down the road the state budget is due – the clock is ticking towards the April 1 deadline. While not reaching a budget is a possibility (Governor Patterson’s budget wasn’t concluded until the end of the legislative session in June). If a budget deal is not reached the governor, through executive orders, actually pushes through his budget piece by piece, however, for months the rhetoric is, “the governor has lost control.” It is likely that a budget deal will be reached, and, the governor’s education agenda will likely be part of the budget deal.

How can the governor reach a budget deal that includes a resolution to his many confrontational education initiatives?

Education is an obstacle to the elephants in the room: rent control and the property tax cap.

Both laws sunset at the end of the session, rent control, (the “Erstadt Law ” requires that laws dealing with rental apartments must be passed in Albany, not the City Council) must be renewed by the legislature or rent control will end in New York City. The Republican Senate will extract their “pound of flesh.” The property tax cap, the center of Cuomo policy, also requires the approval of the legislature, and is unpopular among local school boards and local governments; additionally mayoral control also sunsets at the end of the session.

Ideally, budget negotiations will resolve as many contentious issues as possible, narrowing the field for the end of session negotiations.

If the budget is completed by April 1 you can bet that teacher union leaders will not be on the stage. How do you reach a settlement, a settlement that will not make everyone happy, that will not lead to endless sparring?

An ambitious governor, a new speaker of the Assembly and a Senate majority leader with “Bharara” problem; let the games begin.

It’s Oscar night – my favorite movie clip – give it a look/listen: https://search.yahoo.com/search?p=The+Marseilles+Casablanca&fr=iphone&.tsrc=apple&pcarrier=AT%26T&pmcc=310&pmnc=410

Local State Reps Pen Critical Letter to NYS Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch
Pat Casey | Feb 18, 2015 |

In the wake of much criticism regarding the evaluation of teachers in New York State, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) penned the following letter, which was also signed by local representatives David Buchwald (D-White Plains), Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), Ellen Jaffe (D-Rockland), Steve Otis (D-Rye), and Kenneth Zebrowski (D-Rockland).

We believe that New York State’s Annual Professional Performance Review (“APPR”) process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed, and provides unreliable data rather than accountability and transparency. While we believe that teachers and principals should be evaluated by trained administrators and held accountable for their performance, for the reasons set forth below we do not believe that the APPR, as currently constructed, is a reliable measure of teacher or principal performance. Nor do we believe that the APPR process contributes to the professional development of teachers or principals. And although Education Law Section 3012-c purports to expedite the process for termination of ineffective teachers and principals, it actually has the opposite effect.

1. The APPR “HEDI” scale is seriously flawed and makes it impossible for an evaluator to differentiate meaningfully among educators. A teacher receives scores on three subcomponents of the APPR: (i) student growth on state assessments (worth 20 points), (ii) locally selected measures of student growth (worth 20 points), and (iii) locally developed teacher practice measures, mostly classroom observations (worth 60 points). The composite score that a teacher must receive on the three subcomponents of the APPR in order to be deemed Effective is 75 out of a possible 100 points.

The scale doesn’t work because the percentage of available points required by the state for an Effective score on the first two subcomponents (45%) is much lower than the percentage of available points required for an Effective composite score (75%). Imagine a teacher who receives a 9 out of 20 points on the first two subcomponents, which deems her Effective. In order to achieve a composite score of Effective, she must receive 95% of the available points on the third subcomponent, which is negotiated by the school district.
With a very narrow point range to work with, i.e., 57 to 60 points, an administrator cannot meaningfully differentiate among effective teachers through the scoring of the third subcomponent, the locally developed teacher practice measure.

We urge you to recommend that the Commissioner fix these inconsistencies in the scoring ranges as part of the annual review process.

2. The APPR sets up for failure good teachers, good principals, and good schools. A teacher who earns a rating of Effective or Highly Effective may in a subsequent year earn an Ineffective rating because his new class of students did so well in the prior year that there is no room to demonstrate the amount of student growth required for a higher score. Even if his students do extremely well on standardized tests compared to similar students across the state, he may receive a poor APPR score.

A principal too can be penalized for setting high standards for his students. A principal may receive a score of “Developing” if the school does not offer more than five Regents as is required for a higher score. Many high performing school districts give their own, more rigorous exams in lieu of a Regents exam, and thus do not meet the threshold for a higher score. Another criterion for receiving a score of “Effective” or “Highly Effective” is the percent of students scoring 80% or more on the Algebra I Regents in ninth grade. In many districts throughout the state, the stronger students take the Algebra I Regents in eighth grade, and the weaker students take it in ninth grade. The scoring does not account for the students who took and passed the exam as eighth graders, thereby penalizing the principal.

3. The APPR is designed for less than 20% of all teachers. Only teachers of fourth through eighth grade ELA and math receive student growth ratings based solely on state standardized test scores. Teachers of other grades and content areas (more than 80%) must work with their principals to agree on student learning objectives (“SLOs”). If a teacher teaches a course that has a state-mandated assessment, such as a Regents exam, that teacher’s SLOs must include as evidence the results on those assessments. Teachers who teach other grades or non-regents subjects will have SLOs that may include test results from third-party vendors, district or BOCES developed assessments, or locally developed assessments—and the target outcomes are determined locally. Although SLOs are treated as if they are comparable in reliability to standardized test scores, they can’t be comparable simply because they are locally developed, with locally determined target outcomes. Even if one accepts—which we do not—the premise that results on ELA and math tests are a reliable indicator of student achievement or educator effectiveness, it is clear that it is unfair and unreliable to compare teachers whose ratings are based solely on state standardized test scores with teachers whose ratings are based on SLOs.

4. Most teachers do not receive appropriate professional development based on their APPR scores. A better designed APPR would require principals to work with all teachers, including those rated Effective or Highly Effective, on their professional development. It would require principals, as educational leaders in their buildings, to develop the most appropriate evaluation tools and the best professional development program for all teachers in their schools. New York is missing an opportunity to incentivize our best teachers to become leaders among their peers.

5. Education Law Section 3012-c makes the dismissal of ineffective teachers more difficult than under prior law. The APPR is supposed to enable administrators to identify those teachers who are ineffective, and to use the APPR ratings in an expedited 3020(a) proceeding. However, the use of the APPR in disciplinary proceedings requires two consecutive annual ratings of Ineffective, the development and implementation of a teacher improvement plan, and validation of those Ineffective ratings through at least three observations by an independent validator. The result is that ineffective tenured teachers will teach for at least two years before they can be removed from the classroom based on their APPR scores. Even worse, the law makes the termination of ineffective probationary teachers and principals more difficult than was the case under prior law.

New York State’s APPR process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed because it provides a one-size-fits-all approach that does not adequately take into account differences in educator experience, class composition, subject and grade level taught or other factors. It is unreasonable to assume that the same standardized evaluation tool will fairly and reliably rate an experienced PE teacher in a rural middle school, a brand new fourth grade teacher in an urban school, a mid-career guidance counselor in a high-performing suburban school, and a principal of a BOCES career and technical education program. Because the tool is unreliable, the data it produces is also unreliable. Therefore, the proposed increased reliance on standardized testing would unfairly penalize, or fail to identify weaknesses in, teachers, principals, schools and school districts.

We believe that the Regents and the State Education Department must convene a group of superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, and parents who can advise the legislature, based on their broad knowledge and expertise, how to improve Education Law Section 3012-c so that it will achieve the important goals of increasing educator accountability, encouraging professional development to develop great teachers and principals, and expediting the termination of ineffective teachers and principals.

Thank you for your consideration and for all that you do for the students of New York State.

If I Were a Candidate for the Board of Regents … (The Five-Minute Opening Statement I Wish a Candidate Would Have Made)

Last week a joint meeting of the Education and Higher Education Committees of the NYS Assembly interviewed scores of applicants for the seven regents positions that up for election or re-election. Two positions are vacant (Queens and Westchester/Rockland/Putnam) and five are candidates for re-election.

On Monday the committee interviewed the incumbents and for the remainder of the week interviewed other aspirants. Usually the local electeds select a candidate, and at a joint meeting of both houses “elects” the regent. I sat through a number of the interviews, tedious. The candidates are allowed a five minute presentation and respond to questions; the interviews last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending upon the number of legislators present and interest in the viability of the candidate. Below: the five minute presentation I hope a candidate would have given.


Members of the legislature, the media and others in the audience,

The Board of Regents was created in 1784 and is vested with the authority to establish policy for all schools and professions in New York State. Unfortunately the board continues to operate aloof from the citizens of the state. There appears to be a growing disconnect between parents, legislators and board members.

Board members are elected by a joint meeting of the legislature to represent their judicial district or, as at -large members. The board must change its practices so that, to the fullest extent possible, the public can both be aware of the deliberations of the board, and, participate in the discussions.

As a prospective board member I propose structural changes,

* The entire regents meeting, the full board meeting and the committee meetings, especially P-12 and Higher Ed committees, should be webcast and archived, the comments of the board members should be available to the state, not just the audience on that particular day.

* There must be an opportunity for public comment. Virtually every public meeting, from school board to town hall has a mechanism for real time public comment, a parent in White Plains, Rochester, Buffalo, the North Country or the Bronx should have an opportunity to participate in the meeting via cyberspace.

* Regents should be required to hold public forums in their districts, perhaps fall, winter and spring, once again, an opportunity for the public to interact, face to face, with regents members.

* The regents agenda and attachments should be written in “plain English,” with a brief explanation for each item and posted online a week before the meetings, now they are available Friday or Saturday before the Monday meeting and densely written.

* The board should seek funding for a state-wide Parent Information Center, similar to the New York City “311” system. The ability to establish a mechanism to answer parent questions varies widely throughout the state, consolidating into one state operated center is essential.

The role of the regents is to establish policy; increasingly policy has been set in Washington and regents role has been to figure out procedures to implement these policies. The Common Core and Race to the Top are national policies and they have dominated educational discussions for the last five years. The Malatras letters from the governor are another example of overreach; just as educational policies should not be written in stone in Washington nor should they be written on the second floor of the Capital.

Educational policy has been set by the commissioner, not the regents. The Race to the Top funding ends in June and the board must re-establish its role.

What are the priorities of the regents?

I suggest: equitable, adequate funding, responding to the current high stakes testing climate, creating a pathway to work or college for all students, responding to the criticism of “low performing” schools, the testing of English language learners and students with disabilities, too many school districts, the power and authority of the SED to intervene in school districts are some of the items that should become priorities of the regents.

Currently the feds require that students with disabilities are tested at their chronological age, not at their functional level, the result is dooming kids to failure; and, the feds also require that English language learners are tested after one year in school regardless of their level of English acquisition. Regent Phillips, who is not seeking re-election, on numerous occasions has suggested that the regents simply do what is right and confront the feds, create a crisis. Unfortunately his suggestion has not resonated with his peers.

Under the current ESEA Waiver, Reward Schools receive additional funding, why are we supporting sending additional dollars to successful schools? Perhaps we should consider relieving successful schools from burdensome reporting requirements and use the dollars to support the neediest schools.

A core question deals with a mechanism to determine individual student and school progress: are the current Common Core-based tests the best way to assess progress?

The seventeen women and men in a room, the members of the board, with broad public input, should set the direction of education in the state of New York.

Thank you for your patience and I look forward to your questions.

Unfortunately the audience for the interviews was meager, a few members of the regents, a few media reps, a NYSUT staffer, and a few others. The interviews were not live-streamed.

There is no formal process, the local legislators will caucus, discuss among themselves, and recommend to the brand new Assembly leadership. Early in March the legislature will formally elect, or reelect the candidates and incumbents.