Tag Archives: CUNY

Creating Pathways to Teaching (Not Building Walls): Eliminating the Academic Literacy Skills Test Will Produce More and More Effective Teachers

Every year the Alumni Association of the City College of New York hosts a “How to Get a Job” session. A panel: principals and teachers who serve on hiring committees interact with prospective teachers in the teacher preparation program. The overriding question this year: is it true that we no longer have to take the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST)? Followed by sighs of relief when the answer was “yes.”

Unfortunately the path to the classroom in New York State has become an obstacle course.

There is a dramatic difference between making teaching candidates jump through meaningless hoops and preparing teachers for the classroom.

A major study, What Matters Most:  Teaching for America’s Future (1996), an influential report of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, made teaching the core of its “three simple premises” in its blueprint for reforming the nation’s schools. They are:

  • What teachers know and can do is the most important influence on what students learn.
  • Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools.
  • School reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions under which teachers can teach and teach well.

For well over 100 years New York City has required prospective teachers to demonstrate competence on a pre-service exam. The Board of Examiners was created in 1898 along with the consolidation of the boroughs into New York City. The first wave of reform began with the passage of the Pendleton Act (1883), the law that created the federal civil service; hiring should be based on merit rather than political connections and hiring practices in the states began to reflect the  national reform movement.

The first wave of education reform in New York City was intended to move from patronage hiring to hiring based upon competence The creation of the Board of Examiners, a quasi-independent board created examinations for teachers and supervisors and promulgated rank-ordered lists. Teachers who received passing grades were appointed to positions in schools pursuant to their grade.  For over seventy years the hiring of teachers was a meritocracy; I remember sitting in the gymnasium at Brooklyn Tech High School for hours poring over questions and writing a series of essays. Months later I was grilled by a panel of examiners, it seems like it took hours, and, eventually a list was posted in the newspaper listing the candidates who passed the exam, with their grade. Yes, a form of public shaming, we survived.

In the 60’s the Board of Examiners became the subject of increasing criticism, with a rising civil rights movement, racial disparities in pass/fail rates challenging the validity of the tests: were the tests actually job-related?

In the 1972 the federal courts ruled the Board of Examiners tests unconstitutional. (Read the Court of Appeals decision here ), the Chancellor at the time supported the decision of the trial court,

In a memorandum to the Board of Education, quoted by Judge Mansfield in his opinion, Chancellor Scribner stated that to defend against plaintiffs’ case,

“… would require that I both violate my own professional beliefs and defend a system of personnel selection and promotion which I no longer believe to be workable.”

From the mid-seventies into the 90’s New York City required a 20-minute interview; eventually New York State instituted a two-exam system: the LAST and the ACT-W, passing rates were above the 90th percentile.

recent study conducted by Hemp Langford of SUNY/Albany and other scholars reviewed teacher quality,

We analyze 25 years of data on the academic ability of teachers in New York State and document that since 1999 the academic ability of both individuals certified and those entering teaching has steadily increased. These gains are widespread and have resulted in a substantial narrowing of the differences in teacher academic ability between high- and low-poverty schools and between White and minority teachers. We interpret these gains as evidence that the status of teaching is improving.

In spite of the findings Commissioner King imposed a series of four examinations (lawyers have one: the Bar Exam)

Unfortunately New York State jumped on the “raise the bar” bandwagon without reviewing teacher quality within the state. At the March 17, 2015 Regents Meeting the acting commissioner, defending the new hyper-testing requirements said,

“I think we all want … to send a very clear message that it should be difficult to enter the profession.”

No. I think the “very clear message” we want to send:  New York State is preparing highly qualified students to enter the profession; “difficult” tests do not assure quality.

The State Ed Department had certainly made it difficult to become a teacher, with no assurances that the hurtles would improve the quality of the workforce.

Prospective teachers in New York State were required to pass four separate examinations: edTPA, the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), the Educating All Students (EAS) test and a Content Specialty Test (CST) in order to receive their initial teaching certificate.

The edTPA, created by Stanford University and administered and scored by Pearson,

Evidence of a candidate’s ability to teach is drawn from a subject-specific learning segment of 3-5 lessons from a unit of instruction taught to one class of students. Materials assessed as part of the edTPA process include video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, analysis of student learning, and reflective commentaries. Based on the submitted evidence, which is reviewed by trained scorers, faculty and candidates can discuss the impact of candidates’ teaching performance on student learning and determine ways to improve teaching. Faculty can analyze evidence of candidate performance to guide decision-making about program revision. State education agencies may use edTPA scores for licensure and accreditation

The Academic Literacy and Skills Test (ALAST) is a 210-minute, computer-based exam.

[The teacher candidate] reads a complex informational and narrative text and demonstrates command of key ideas and details in the text … makes logical inferences based on textual evidence … delineates and evaluates the argument and specific claims in a text.

The ALST consists of a selected response section and constructed responses, two focused responses and one extended response.

The Educating All Students (EAS) test is a 135-minute, computer-based exam “consisting of selected response items based on scenario-based responses … the competencies include Diverse Student Populations, English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, Teacher Responsibilities and School-Home Relationships.”

The Content Specialty Test (CST) is a series of tests in about fifty different areas, the Multi-Subject Grades 1-6 (Common Branches) is a computer-based test:

Part One: Literacy and English Language Arts, Part Two: 40 selected-response items and a constructed response item in Mathematics: Part Three: 40 selected-response items and one constructed response item in Arts and Sciences, tests can be taken in three separate sections or at one time: 5 hours and 15 minutes.

About ten hours of actual testing time and days and days preparing for and constructing the video segment of the edTPA.

The tests and the test preparation materials cost the student about a thousand dollars.

Is there any evidence that the battery of testing will produce more qualified teachers and better student outcomes? The answer is no.

There is general agreement that the edTPA is valuable and should be integrated into college programs; “clinically-rich” programs incorporate a great deal of actual in-class practice teaching, and, a few colleges, very few, use videos as reflective teaching-learning tools for teacher candidates.

I asked the Director of Field Services in a teacher education program if he saw any relationship between the ALST and EAS exams and teacher quality. His answer, “I’m baffled, top students failed and marginal students passed, it makes no sense to me.”

In New York City just under 40% of new teachers leave within five years and I’m sure the same number accrues in inner city high poverty school districts across the state; teachers leave high poverty schools at much more accelerated rates than teachers in high achieving schools.

A core issue is teacher retention in schools with the lowest academic achievement. No matter the rigor of the preparation, if we don’t retain teachers the process is flawed.

Sadly the rush to “test to teacher excellence” appears to be driving away prospective teachers, enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the state is sharply down. SUNY deans report decreases approaching 40% in teacher preparation programs and more than 20% declines in CUNY schools. (New York City financially supports Teaching Fellows and Men Teach programs)

The folks in charge constantly beat the diversity drums, we should attract a more diverse teaching workforce; however, the failure rates on the ALAST and the EAS are significantly higher among black and Hispanic test takers. Are they “less literate,” or, is the test flawed?  And, how does the test correlate with teacher effectiveness? We have no idea.

Yes, I understand Finland only selects teachers from the top ten percent of applicants, Finland is also a nation with almost no childhood poverty and income equality, within their workforce teachers are well-paid. If we dragged Finnish teachers across the pond and dumped them in Rochester or East New York we would not see magic.

Rather than address the problem, attracting the right candidates, providing high quality teacher preparation programs based on evidence, supporting new teachers over their first few years, we are discouraging new applicants, using “tests” that are unproven, not valid or reliable and ignoring the discouraging exit of new teachers, from both the profession and from high needs schools.

There is hope on the horizon: the Council for the Accreditation Teacher Preparation (CAEP), the national organization that assesses teacher preparation programs requires a 3.0 GPA for admission to programs.

A year ago Regents Cashin and Collins, the co-chairs of the New York State Regents Higher Education Committee began to explore the validity of the exams. Instead of jumping to conclusions, the members held ten forums around the state. Many hundreds of college teachers and students attended the open forums, as well as the commissioner and other state staff. The message was clear, the exams were not culling the “best and the brightest,” the exams were creating barriers as well as chasing away potential teacher educators. The regents formed a task force co-chaired by deputy provost of SUNY and an officer of the state college teacher union (UUP) and made a series of recommendations.

The task force report (See Power Point here) made a series of recommendations, one of which is to eliminate one of the exams, the Academic Literary Skills Test (ALST). The print media, the NY Daily News, the NY Post jumped on the Board and screamed, “you’re ‘dumbing down’ teacher standards.”

Not true.

Teacher preparation programs must meet CAEP standards, including a 3.0 GPA for admission to programs, passing three exams, the edTPA, a process that takes weeks or months, the Educating All Children (EAS) and the Content Specialty test (CST). New York City has a “Teacher Finder” site, all prospective teacher posts resumes available to all principals, schools routinely interview applicants and commonly require a demonstration lesson, and, once appointed teachers serve four years as a probationary teacher.

In spite of all these efforts four of ten new teachers leave within five years.

Instead of bashing the Regents the media should be lauding the Regents.

Former Commissioner King, with the acquiescence of Chancellor Tisch, didn’t raise the bar, they built a wall.

The teacher candidates we met with are spending days in classrooms as student teachers, reading and writing in their graduate courses, studying for the required exams and grappling with creating and commenting on the video required in the edTPA process.

Policy should not simply appear out of the reform-y clouds, edicts announced from the mountaintops rarely impact the folks in the trenches. Regents Cashin and Collins listened to hundreds and hundreds of college teachers and teacher candidates, created a task force to convert the findings of the forums into actual policy. “Participation reduces resistance,” policy should grow from classrooms, from teachers, from students, from parents.

I applaud the actions of the regents, under the collaborative leadership of Chancellor Rosa the Board has created a process to include all of us, yes, there will be conflicts, the process can be slow, and, at times frustrating (Opt Out advocates), building consensus is at the core of our democratic system.

James Madison in Federalist # 10 warned us,

The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice [factions]. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

Madison goes on the praise the republican form of government created in our constitution, “a happy combination … of  the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.”

Decisions, made in a transparent environment,  reflecting the will of the majorities, not the interests of a handful of self-proclaimed elites,, are the best decisions.

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NYSUT Leadership at Stake: The Members Will Decide Who Leads the 600,000 NYS Teachers.

In the early seventies the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers, (AFT) locals in New York State merged into a single state federation – the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). There was considerable doubt that the merger would succeed, the organizations came from starkly different cultures – a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO and a “professional” organization.

NYSUT is incredibly diverse – New York City, locals with 100 or fewer members deep in the Adirondacks, high wealth suburbs, college teachers in the CUNY system and across the state in the SUNY system. Per capita funding is one of the most disparate in the nation; upstate urban communities have seen industry flee and the inner cities face increasingly deep poverty and less and less revenue.

NYSUT is not a union – it is a federation of 1300 local chapters. NYSUT uses dues dollars to establish and staff regional support centers around the state – the centers provide labor relations specialists and attorneys who negotiate contracts and support the locals as well as lobbying in Albany.

New York City, teachers, teachers outside of New York City and college teachers belong to different pension funds, CUNY and SUNY have chancellors selected by appointed Boards, the Board of Regents appoints a state commissioner while New York City is a mayoral control city.

For decades Tom Hobart led the NYSUT federation with élan. Tom skillfully guided the extremely diverse elements within the federation. Tom and Toni Cortese, his first vice president balanced the complexities of the needs of 600,000 members and, from the UFT, Alan Lubin, guided the political/lobbying side across the state.

NYSUT collected millions of dollars in voluntary political contributions (Committee on Political Education – COPE) and for many years has been the major contributor to political campaigns – both Republicans and Democrats.

Some months ago the unity of this extremely diverse organization began to fray. The incumbents are being challenged by a new slate – all the candidates within the same caucus (See Revive NYSUT here and a blog supporting the insurgents here)

The annual NYSUT Representative Assembly will begin on Friday evening April 4th and the election will take place on the evening of April 5th.

Rumors abound about the reasons that the split is irreconcilable:

* have the incumbents mismanaged the fiscal side of NYSUT?
* have the incumbents been tone deaf to the needs of members?
* has the split been engineered by the larger locals?

Interestingly this a not a philosophical split between different caucuses – all the candidates are within the Unity Caucus – the caucus that has dominated the federation for decades.

For the anti-Unity folk it’s a Randi Weingarten plot, the press points to a dispute between Vice President Andy Palotta and President Dick Iannuzzi. Others just think that NYSUT has been slow to respond to the attacks on public education by the governor, the commissioner and most members of the board of regents.

Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reports,

Iannuzzi is losing ground among local unions whose delegates will vote at a convention in early April.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Federation of Teachers, said his members are frustrated that the current leadership wasn’t as aggressive as they’d hoped in responding to the state’s rollout of the controversial Common Core standards.

“Many of the Buffalo teachers have not been satisfied with the positions that NYSUT has taken,” Rumore told Capital on Wednesday. “Let’s put it this way: If anything, we are leaning toward a change in direction, but we haven’t made a formal decision yet.”

Yonkers Federation of Teachers president Patricia Puleo said her union’s delegates are free to decide for themselves who they’ll vote for in April, and she questioned whether new leadership would make a difference in how the state Education Department goes forward with implementation of the Common Core standards. But she recognized that the city’s teachers have grown frustrated.

“People are so upset that they are willing to make whatever changes they can,” Puleo said.

Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, said his delegates aren’t sure how they’ll vote.
“We have to do what is best for our local, and we are waiting until we have thoroughly discussed where both slates are at in terms of what will work best for us in the long term,” Ahern said.

Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said teachers have been dissatisfied with Iannuzzi’s handling of some issues in the past, they “have also noted a marked change in his position with the call for a moratorium and with spearheading the vote of no confidence against Commissioner King,” he said.

“I think there is considerable dissatisfaction with the way things have turned out,” Urbanski continued, “and I think they want a stronger position to be taken by NYSUT than NYSUT has managed to take until now. There is absolutely no question about that. But they don’t want change for the sake of change; they want change in position and the issues to be the focus point, not personalities.”

United University Professions, a union of about 33,000 SUNY professors and other employees, will back the challengers.
Higher education institutions in the state are facing different issues than elementary and secondary schools, and UUP president Frederick Kowal said a primary focus has been the financial troubles of Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, which might close. He’s unhappy with NYSUT’s involvement in professors’ fight to keep it open.

Universities have also faced state aid cuts. NYSUT launched an advertising campaign earlier this month advocating boosts in funding for SUNY and CUNY. But Kowal said his union has had to rely on its own lobbying.

“There needs to be a consistent and long-running commitment to the needs of members and locals,” Kowal said. “It’s just not enough to see a flurry of activity as a contested election approaches.”

Sometime late Saturday night the votes will be counted and the incumbents or the insurgents will prevail. What is crucially important is that the transition, if it occurs, is an orderly transition. The worst thing that could happen is if the losers attempt to undercut the winners.

Politics is complicated, it’s easy to attack the governor or the commissioner or the legislature, and it’s difficult to impact policy decisions. You influence lawmakers one vote, one meeting at a time, by developing relationships. As Tip O’Neill, the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives so famously noted, “All politics is local.”

A contingent of CUNY students was meeting with an Albany legislator; they were vigorously demanding more money for the city colleges to prevent a tuition increase. The legislator asked whether the students would campaign for higher taxes, or, what programs should they reduce to add funds to colleges, the students got frustrated, angry, and threatened, “We won’t vote for you – we’ll campaign against you.” The legislator asked, “Will you work with me to find a solution?” The students angrily stalked out of the office. The legislator took the sign-in list and ran it into the computer – none of the students were registered Democrats – they were not eligible to vote in the primary in which candidates were selected.

An hour later we met with a lobbyist and some clients – they advocated for legislation and left a detailed folder with a suggested bill.

In my former school district the school board, the superintendent, the parent associations and school union leaders met with all the local legislators and provided them with a legislative agenda for the district and followed up with Albany visits and visits to the legislator’s community office.

One would hope that teacher union local presidents have excellent relationships with local electeds, that they communicate regularly, that with the assistance of the NYSUT lobbying team they are a presence in their district. Impacting policy is not an e-blast or a one-time trip to Albany – it is a day-to-day process.

For the UFT the major issue is negotiating a contract and relief from the onerous requirements of the teacher evaluation plan, for CUNY the fight is over Pathways, for SUNY the proposed closing of Downstate Medical Center, outside of New York City the property tax cap, all locals are fighting for increased state aid, locals and groups of locals have diverse interests and needs.

The voters are the elected delegates representing the membership of the 1300 local unions. The “voters” vote in proportion to the members they represent – local unions decide on the number of delegates to send to the Representative Assembly. Each voter bubbles in the candidates of their choice on a ballot with a barcode – the ballots are scanned and the totals available a few hours after the closing of the polls – Saturday night.

While it is commonplace to speculate about backroom deals and grand strategies frequently disagreements are what they seem. Members of organizations become dissatisfied and an alternate leader emerges – this is what democracy is all about.

Will the representatives of the 600,000 member NYSUT decide to stick with the current leadership or opt for a new team – I suspect they will opt for the new team.

Leaders require a “third ear,” Joyce Brown, a psychologist and President of FIT describes her process,

I have a third ear. I listen, and I really pay attention and try very hard to understand the nuances. I tell people that I will listen to what they say, and will try to incorporate what I can from their suggestions if I think they fit the objective we’re trying to achieve. If we’re not going to do what they’re suggesting, I’ll tell them why. I think people deserve that. I will tell you why, and then we will proceed. I think it works, because people feel that they were listened to, and were given the respect of an answer about why I might disagree. You gain a lot by being respectful of people’s ideas.

The current NYSUT leadership appears to have lost contact with their membership – too many members feel the leadership is neither listening nor leading. Leadership requires a deft touch – the membership goals may be unrealistic – do you follow the membership even though you know the path is futile or guide the membership to another path, even though they are reluctant?

In New York City Michael Mulgrew is a popular leader – he won the last union election with almost 90% of the vote, there is an active opposition, a former very oppositional mayor – with currently a much friendlier mayor Mulgrew will have to negotiate a contract and satisfy his members – some may have unrealistic expectations. Senior teachers want as much money as possible to augment their pensions; younger members want job security and “respect,” aka, better working conditions. Mulgrew will have to check the pulse of his membership and craft an agreement that satisfies members across the board.

Apparently NYSUT leadership was unable to find a middle ground, hence the leadership struggle.

The members will decide.

On a personal note: I have worked with candidates on both sides of the struggle and have always found them dedicated and hard-working – I hope that once the membership decides the factions can come together for the benefit of the membership.

Dreaming: Will NYS Pass the Dream Act Providing Tuition Assistance for Undocumented Students?

We are a nation of immigrants, of children of immigrants; grandchildren of immigrants, our roots are in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

A friend who loves to walk was visiting New York. As she walked across Brooklyn the neighborhoods change from Pakistani to Orthodox, to West Indian to Chinese to Russian, she could not believe that so many ethnic communities sat side by side.

“Do they get along?” she queried.

I smiled, “For the parents, benign neglect, for the kids, they sit next to each other in classrooms, for the rest of us, lots of ethnic restaurant choices.”

The strength of our nation, the future of our nation rests on the infusion of the collected knowledge of generation after generation of graduates with new ideas. As the 2013 CUNY graduates walk across the stage we note name after name from the far corners of the world. The winners of awards, the valedictorians, the salutatorians reflect the diversity of the city. We don’t know whether they are documented or undocumented, we know they are “the best and the brightest.”

To even the funding playing field at the federal and state level legislation provides grants and loans to students, except to students who are not documented.

New York State, for many years, has supported students in college through the Tuition Assistance Program, referred to as TAP, as long as the student is a citizen. For the one hundred thousand students in the state who are undocumented, TAP grants are not available.

On Monday the New York State Board of Regents convened a number of panels at their monthly meeting to discuss the inequity in the TAP law. Four panelists, all of whom came to the nation as young children, told their stories and the obstacles to achieve their dream, the American dream, a college diploma and a path to citizenship.

Under the proposed law,

To qualify for TAP under New York’s proposed Dream Act, undocumented students would have to either have graduated from a New York high school, which they attended for at least two years, or received a New York State GED. Applicants would have to apply to a post-secondary institution within five years of receiving their high school diploma or GED.

The New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), a state agency, clearly sets forth the requirement for TAP applicants. The opening sections:

• A United States citizen or eligible non-citizen (i. e., Green Card or equivalent)
• Be a legal resident of New York State

In order to remedy the flaw bills were introduced into the legislature, the Moya-Peralta bill.(read the bill here), On Tuesday, May 21st the Assembly passed the bill, the first step, hopefully, to create a law. “This legislation,” says the Assembly presser, “… would make New York one of only four states – including Texas, New Mexico and California – to offer state financial aid to immigrant students.”

All the Republican members of the Assembly voted against the bill.

On the Senate side the future of the bill is unclear. The Senate leadership is divided, the Independent Democratic Conference, led by Jeff Klein and the Republican leader, Dean Skelos, have expressed weak support but question the source of the funding.

Governor Cuomo has been totally silent, and, the interim report of the Cuomo Commission on Educational Reform made no recommendations. The clock is ticking – the legislature will adjourn around June 20th.

The Regents deserve accolades: the panels that they hosted both explained the details of the DACA (Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals declaration issued by President Obama, the plight of undocumented students and highlighted the successes in one sector of schools – the International High School Network and the Newcomer High Schools.

If high school graduation rates and College and Career Readiness rates are appalling for English Language learners in New York State, why are the International and Newcomer schools so successful?

The school and support organization leaders described a methodology: teams of teachers working in a highly collaborative setting with the authority to create curriculum, teachers who are partners in every aspect of the school, schools that design their own assessment tools, and, a not-for-profit support organization that both advocates for the schools, organizes and provides professional development,

In a school system plagued by top-down management, endless conflict between the school district leadership and the union, parents marginalized, a dysfunctional system that continues to disintegrate, islands of sanity survive and blossom.

Regent Cashin asked how the Internationals would tweak the Danielson Frameworks to address teachers in English Language learner classrooms. A simple answer: the teachers are working on an iteration of the Frameworks to make them relevant to the student they teach. Not consultants, not Tweed bureaucrats, teachers.

Regent Young mused whether the highly collaborative culture of the International Schools/Newcomer schools could be a model for all schools?

One can only hope that the next mayor and the next chancellor will create a culture of collaboration among all stakeholders, a culture that welcomes parents and respects teachers, a culture that honors and supports teachers and school leaders … a nirvana (In general terms nirvāṇa is a state of transcendence involving the subjective experience of release from a prior state of bondage).