Tag Archives: Cuomo

The Blue Wave: Will the Democratic Primary Victories Impact Education Policy in NYS?

Cuomo and Nixon slugged it out all summer, the incumbent governor with an enormous war chest filled the airways with TV slots, Nixon, with very limited dollars kept up a steady barrage, and, education policy was on a back burner. Nixon trumpeted more dollars for education, clearing up the teacher evaluation morass and clearly is not a friend of charter schools, Cuomo, silent.

Cuomo, following the polling predictions, won easily with 64% of the vote; however, the story is further down the ballot.

The progressives, the anti-party establishment, the Democratic Socialists, whatever you want to call them, rejected the incumbent Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), winning in six races, including rejecting the IDC leader Jeff Klein who spent over 2 million dollars, an incredible sum in a state senate primary race.

Juumane Williams, a Brooklyn City Council member with a checkered past and a conservative on social policies came close in the Lieutenant-Governor race and Tish James, the Public Advocate in New York City won the four-way Attorney General race with 40% of the vote; Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Cuomo in the primary four years ago had 25% of the vote.

What this means is that Joe Crowley’s shocking loss in the June congressional primary was not a fluke. Sages clucked away blaming Crowley: he lived DC, only occasionally toured the district,  didn’t take his opponent seriously, and the race was an anomaly. The victories across the board of young, vibrant, virtually unknown candidates may be a sea change in New York State politics.

The turnout was huge.

Will the wave of young, progressive candidates and voters continue two months from now in the general election?

The national Republican Party will not pump dollars into a losing campaign and it is likely that Cuomo will roll to victory; however, will Cuomo have coattails and will other progressives defeat incumbent Republicans in state senatorial races?

The state senate majority teeters, while the Democrats currently hold a 33-32 edge one member, Simcha Felder, votes with the Republicans, giving the Republicans the edge. If the blue wave continues to roll the Democrats will seize the state senate.

Past democratic majorities in the senate led to internal mud wrestling and the last two Democratic leaders ended up in jail. Can the current dem leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, actually lead her contentious troops?  Jeff Klein will be gone, the remaining IDC leader, Diane Savino, is isolated, a new cluster of very young and very progressive dems confronting old guard dems; of course, first the dems have to prevail in November.

At the NYS AFL-CIO Endorsement Conference the unions were all over the place, some unions supporting the former IDC incumbents, others in the insurgents, a few unions supporting Republicans. The Conference endorsed Cuomo-Hochel-deNapoli-James and failed to make any endorsements in the hotly contested races, a 2/3 vote is required for endorsement.

NYSUT, the state teacher union, made no endorsement for governor.

If the dems prevail and take control of the senate charter schools will be a loser – perhaps a big loser.

The governor, at times, has been both a friend of charter schools, at other times ignored charter schools. If the blue wave rolls I believe Cuomo will join the wave. Not only will the charter school cap not be increased it is altogether likely that legislation will require further scrutiny of charter schools: much greater transparency of school finances, tightening up the regulations, namely, charter schools students, including student with disabilities and English language learners at the same level as surrounding public schools. Charter schools commonly force out low performing students before state tests, one idea is to “credit” the test score results to the charter school.

The revised teacher evaluation law that was bottled up in the senate by the Republican leader will pass.

Perhaps the legislature will increase the power of State Education to remove school boards in conflicted districts, i. e., Hempstead and East Ramapo. BTW, a very long time Assembly member in Hempstead was defeated in the primary.

The blue wave in both houses may attempt to grapple with creating alternative assessment pilots, regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) sites, additional Community Schools, expanding Universal Pre-K and 3-for-All programs across the state.

The new ESSA law does call for greater transparency in all schools in regard to the use of dollars and Cuomo has been a fan of fiscal transparency.

Will the blue wave reach into currently Republican controlled districts?  Replacing the six IDC Democrats with six progressive Democrats will be a futile gesture without also taking control of the senate.

Will the losers, Cynthia Nixon, Zephyr Teachout, campaign across the state for Democratic candidates?  Teachout is weeks away from giving birth so we’ll give her a pass.  I would love to see TV ads with Nixon and Teachout pumping up their troops, pumping up that blue wave across the state.

In 2008 and 2012 record numbers of voters raced to the polls to cast a vote for Obama, two years later, in 2010 and 2014 they stayed home and the Congress went Republican. The job is never done, the primaries were a first step; the “real” election is in November.

New York State Reduces Grades 3-8 Testing from Three to Two Days, and, We Learn: Test Creation is Complicated, and the Results – Relatively Meaningless.

In the summer of 2015 I was at a fundraiser for a local candidate on Long Island and talked with a number of leaders of local teacher unions. They had endorsed Zephyr Teachout who was running against Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent governor, in the democratic primary. I mentioned that if Cuomo won, there would be consequences.

Cuomo won, and in the “big ugly,” the rolling together of non-budgetary items into the budget Cuomo added a number of anti-teacher/teacher union policies. He expended probation from three to four years and also added a number of pro-charter school laws.

Payback can be a bitch. Politics is all about winning and losing.

NYSUT, the New York State United Teachers, the state-wide teacher union began a series of anti-Cuomo TV ads and joined up with the opt-out parents. The governor’s favorability ratings nose dived.

Let us not forget the first teacher who was terminated was Socrates, accused “corruption of the youth of the city-state,” and, since there was no union, the punishment, the 3020a of the era, was quite harsh.

“...consistent with common legal practice, the jurors voted and agreed to a sentence of death to be executed by Socrates drinking a poisonous beverage of hemlock

In the 1790’s two of our founding fathers, Jefferson and Hamilton, were bitter rivals,  Jefferson, surreptitiously hired James Callender, a sleazy publisher, who unearthed and publicly exposed a Hamilton affair with a married women, Maria Reynolds, an affair that may have been arranged by the woman’s husband. Callender later turned on Jefferson accusing him of fathering mixed race children, which happened to be true.

Politics is a full contact sport

In September, 2015 Cuomo appointed a commission, similar in membership to a commission appointed a few years earlier. The earlier commission held meetings around the state, hours and hours of testimony, and issued a report that came to naught. The 2015 commission (called a task force) met  quietly and issued a report in December, 2015, an attempt, on the part of Cuomo, the Regents and the unions, to repair relationships and set a path for education in the state. The task force (read full report here) made twenty-one recommendations.

The last recommendation removed a thorn in the body of the teaching force,

Until the new system (whatever that is …) is fully phased in the results from assessments aligned to the common core standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.

A few of the other recommendations,

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

Modify early grade standards so that they are age-appropriate.

and

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

The Commissioner can check off another item on her “to do” list.

Early Monday morning the Standards Work Group of the Regents convened and the “discussion” dragged on for a few hours. Regent Chin skillfully guided the discussion. Scott Marion, one of the consultants leading the process, described himself as a “recovering psychometrician,” presented a dense and fascinating power point. If you’re taking a “testing and measurement” course and have always been baffled by test creation and design take a look at the Marion power point.

Considerations for New York State Assessments: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/P-12%20Considerations%20for%20the%20NY%20State%20Assessment%20System.pdf

Especially check out “The Life Cycle of an ELA Test Item (slide 17),” – fascinating.

The bottom line: every change has consequences, every plus has a minus, every change, a new baseline, a shorter test, fewer items, fewer days, less accurate, a “new” configuration, more time to score the test, One of the Regents described the test as an “accountability,” not a “diagnostic” test. Marion, politely demurred. yes, the test is used for accountability, to compare schools/school districts to the previous year, less useful for an individual student; however, school leaders can use the results to construct error matrices and use the results to guide instruction and professional development in the following year.

The members of the Board approved the motion to move from three days of testing for ELA and math to two days, with, I believe Regents Brown and Young abstaining. Correctly, they worried about a cycle of changes that would be confusing to the public.

Last year was the first year of untimed tests, although the scores jumped there was no baseline, we have no idea if the scores jumped due to better instruction, or, probably, due to extended time. This year’s scores will be compared to the baseline, last year’s scores; however, next year, a new baseline year.

The 2018 test, a two-day test, will create a new baseline, and, the 2019 tests can be compared to 2018. Of course, if the Regents implement the Next Generation of Standards, guess what, another baseline year has to be established.

Are we entering into a cycle of meaningless testing years? Yup ….

Next year the Regents will begin to explore alternative assessments, and, having everyone, from the governor on down on the same page, just may result in substantive changes.

And, of course, that core question: why and what are we testing?

“When Elephants Fight:” Will Political Bickering End Mayoral Control in New York City? Would NYC Return to a Politicized “Identity” Education Politics?

“When Elephants fight the Grass is Trampled”  African Proverb

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session” (1866, New York State Surrogate Court)

 

Back when I was teaching World History I always included sections from Machiavelli’s The Prince,

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” 

 “And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” 

 “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” 

And a section from the Bible,

 “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend  to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”  Luke 36:5

And ask, can a ruler (substitute politician) be both a good Christian and an effective ruler?

We would debate the axioms in The Prince, the Bible, and today, I would show a video clip in the movie Lincoln when the president offers a bribe to a congressman to vote in favor of the 13th Amendment. Was Lincoln justified? Is there a “greater good”?

Kids would leave the class mumbling, “This is confusing,”  …. I felt I was doing my job.

The world of politics can be confusing.

The governor chose not to put mayoral control into the April 1st budget. Remember de Blasio and Cuomo, although both progressive democrats have no love for each other. The Republican-led Senate “offered” a deal – reviving the “sunsetting” mayoral control law in exchange for raising the cap on charter schools or merging the caps. There are separate caps in New York City and for the remainder of the state. There are 150 unfilled charter slots outside of New York City and about 25 in the city. The Senate favors charter political action dollars, not charter schools in their districts.

If an extension of mayoral control is not passed by the end of the session the bill “sunsets,”  the city returns to the previous organizational structure.

A seven-member board: one appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor and 32 elected school boards.  Eric Nadelstern,  the deputy chancellor under Joel Klein and a rebel principal under the old guard viewed the old central board with disdain.

Since mayoral control was adopted in 2003 we have seen numerous organizational changes – where are we now?  Mayoral Control 5.0?  Then again, there is no question that the borough president appointed board was driven by politics: is “politics” a dirty word? or, is politics the will of the electorate?  Should all decisions be in the hands of the mayor, only accountable to voters every four years?  Depends on the mayor  ….  Bloomberg/Klein succeeded in alienating parents, teachers and communities. The closing of 150 schools and the creation of innumerable screened schools seemed just s political as decisions by the former board.

Mayor de Blasio  can claim credit for the pre-k for all program, settling the contentious teacher union contract, hiring an experienced school and district leader as chancellor; by September there will be more community schools  than charter schools, well over 100 schools availed themselves of an opportunity to change union and/or board rules and policies to benefit their schools, reducing suspensions and working to improve the lowest achieving schools. The end of mayoral control could damage some or all of the mayor’s educational agenda.

This afternoon in the waning minutes of the Assembly session a lengthy bill came up for a vote – the bill would permit many upstate communities to extend specific taxes, in mostly Republican communities, and, in the last sentence,  continue mayoral control for two years. The bill passed 101-26.

Capital Tonight reports,

The Democratic-led Assembly on Monday approved a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools that was also packaged with a series of tax extensions and incentives for local governments.

In effect, Assembly Democrats are linking the two-year extension to the tax legislation, an early form of a mini-big ugly weeks before the mayoral control legislation is due to expire at the end of June. The Republican conference is largely composed of lawmakers from upstate and suburban districts that would be impacted by the tax extensions.

Perhaps the Republicans and the Democrats have “traded” highly targeted tax extenders desperately sought by Republicans in exchange for the mayoral control extension sought by Democrats.

Andy Pallotta, the newly elected president of NYSUT, the state teacher union excoriated the Republicans for their support of charter schools.

Why do the Republican state senators from Long Island and the rest of upstate continue to lobby to provide millions of dollars in state aid every year to the charter sector; money that could benefit their own local schools and constituents but instead ends up in the coffers of charter operators in New York City? It’s a question that is especially pointed for Long Island’s GOP Senate delegation, particularly Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Does Republican leader, and possible gubernatorial candidate want to spend a year and  half defending his support of charter schools in Republican districts?

Yes, politics can be confusing, and, yes, Machiavelli would have been at home in the environs of Albany.  With fourteen days legislative days left on the calendar (June 21) the “elephants” may continue to fight, or, actually legislate: New York State has among the lowest election turnouts in the nation due to archaic laws: no early voting, complex registration rules, and very little voter registration outreach, then again, maybe the Republicans fear new voters …. the grass is in trouble.

Are Suspensions a Pipeline to Prison or a Valid Response to Unacceptable Behavior? How Do Suspensions Impact the Behavior of the Other Students in the Class? Are Afro-American Parents Opposed to Suspensions?

Three years ago we were in the midst of a hotly contested mayoral election. Four high profile Democrats were battling for the democrat line on the November ballot. Bill Thompson, an Afro-American, had given Bloomberg a close run in 2009, the President of the City Counsel, Christine Quinn, the Comptroller, John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio were dashing from forum to forum. When the dust settled not only did de Blasio win he won 40% of the vote to avoid a runoff. A key was clearly his early and vigorous opposition to Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” and the Dante TV commercial..

de Blasio received more Afro-American votes than Thompson, the only Afro-American in the race. Virtually every Afro-American male in the city, regardless of their income or residence has a story. A cop stopping them for no apparent reason, treating them as if they were a  criminal, a victim of “walking or driving while black.”

During his three years de Blasio fulfilled his campaign promises, he has been the progressive mayor, seemingly vying for the leadership of the left wing of the Democratic Party, and, watching polling numbers drop.

The NY Post and the Daily News have criticized him daily, the Wall Street Journal and the Manhattan Initiate also taking shots at the mayor and Governor Cuomo has made it clear, he, Cuomo, not de Blasio, is the leader of the Democratic Party in the state.

A year away from the next election and the vultures are circling, de Blasio seems wounded, and possible opponents are smelling the carcass.

At this point there is no “Stop and Frisk” issue, at least not until after the November presidential. A Hillary presidency would put a totally different spin – she could endorse de Blasio, or, send out an “I support Bill” message, or, remain aloof. Crime continues to fall to historic levels; the city is prosperous, what are the issues?

Lack of affordable housing, high taxes, homelessness, poverty, undocumented immigration, crowded subways: the list goes on and on; are any of these issues core election issues? Can they grab the electorate?

The Dante TV commercial and de Blasio’s early outspoken opposition to Stop and Frisk, in my view, catapulted him to victory in 2013.

Is there a core issue in 2017 that will create a path to victory?

First, who are the potential voters?  An NYU Wagner report in 2013 parsed likely voters. Older, better educated, higher incomes and union members are more likely to vote,

See a detailed analysis of likely voters by neighborhood before the 2013 mayoral election:

Prime voter lists and detailed voter information can be purchased – see what you can find out about likely voters: http://gograssroots.org/files/analyzevoters.pdf

Potential voters are extremely diverse, by ethnicity, by income, by age, by education, by race and by religion or lack thereof.

Getting back to issues: will suspensions be the stop and frisk issue of 2017?

Are schools (i. e., suspensions) the pipeline to prison tropes so deeply ingrained in minority and liberal voters that it will emerge as the core issue? See Atlantic articles here  and here; and, as the Department of Education, perhaps responding to harsh criticism from the teacher and principal unions, backs away, even ever so slightly the Atlantic and progressives shove back.

While the suspension/pipeline to prison issue resonates in progressive circles, both white and black, does it resonate among Afro-American parents?

A year or so ago I was at an education forum, during a break a teacher was engaging with an Afro-American charter school parent. The teacher was telling the parent, “Charters throw out the disruptive kids.” The parent answered, “That’s exactly why I send my child to a charter school.”

You cannot simply use the term, “Afro-American voters,” who do you mean?   Older black voters?  Millennial black voters? Caribbean voters? See fascinating breakdown of voting trends by neighborhood here.

Caribbean voters (Jamaica, Trinidad and Haiti) tend to be socially conservative, church-goers, union members, prefer kids to wear uniforms to school, and, I would argue far more likely to support strict discipline in schools. Highly educated black intellectuals firmly support the school to prison pipeline concept: David Kirkland director of  the Metro Center at NYU chairs the  Commission for Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

 If we trace backwards: are kids who end up in criminal justice and/or fail to graduate high school more likely to have been suspended in school. Did the suspension(s) lead to poor academics and/or antisocial behavior? Could alternative disciplinary procedures such as restorative justice practices or Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports  (PBIS) avert the negative outcomes associated with suspensions?  Do suspensions so stigmatize the student that future negative behaviors are to be expected?  On the other hand, how do suspensions impact the other students in the classroom?  Does the removal of disruptive students improve educational outcomes for the remainder of the class?

Complex issues and issues that are firmly held.

Interested in becoming a campaign consultant?

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.

Olives, Condoms and Teacher Quality: The Education Transformation Act of 2015 is Fatally Flawed and Counteproductive

In order to prepare for the 2011 Race to the Top application the Governor, the Commissioner and the Unions spent months crafting a teacher evaluation plan which became State Education Law 3012c, the Commissioner convened an advisory task force made up of stakeholders and spent additional months working through regulations that the Commissioner promulgated, called the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), a state website explains the complex plan in detail: see extensive description here.

The seven hundred plus school districts in the state each created APPR plans pursuant to the law and state regulations and teachers outside of New York City were “judged” for the 12-13 school year. (The New York City plan began the following year, the 13-14 school year).

When the dust settled 51% of teachers were rated “highly effective,” 40% “effective and 1% “ineffective.” Very, very, very few teachers received consecutive “ineffective” ratings.

In numerous school districts every teacher received ”highly effective” ratings on the observation section.

At the same time the state changed the state tests, under the former tests over 70% of students scored proficient or above, under the new Common Core State Standards-based tests two-thirds of students scored “below proficient,” in other words failed the test; however, under the complex formula a new baseline was created.

On the observation section of the plan teachers commonly received extremely high scores, a statistics guru commenting on the frequency of high observation scores.

… either the hiring and training is remarkably effective and all teachers were very good or there was a social contract that ratings were given out in the same way that olives (and condoms) are sized (gigantic to colossal); without external information you can’t tell which.

It is extraordinarily difficult to differentiate among teachers through a numerical score, a skilled principal/evaluator can parse a lesson, can work with teachers to improve performance, and, when necessary can counsel out or discharge teachers during their probationary period, and, in rare cases begin the process to fire a tenured teacher.

The problem is the entire new system is based on a fallacy: firing “ineffective” teachers based on students’ scores and observations, sharply limiting entry into the profession by setting high academic bars and merit pay will not eradicate poverty and provide a pathway to the middle class. Teachers teach about 900 periods a school year (180 days x 5 classes a day), can you really attribute a score based on performance during one or two lesson observations? Sticks do not frighten teachers into “getting better.”

“Scoring” teachers in isolation from the world that surrounds our students is futile.

As described by the governor, the new legislation:

EDUCATION: THE GREAT EQUALIZER
Education Transformation Act of 2015
New York’s education system is set to implement some of its most dramatic and fundamental reforms in years through the Education Transformation Act. The Budget includes the Governor’s proposal for an increase of $1.3 billion in state education support to take education funding to its highest level ever – $23.5 billion.
The components of the transformation are as follows:
1. Best and Brightest Recruitment: To attract our best and brightest to the teaching field, the Budget provides funding for a new full scholarship program for SUNY/CUNY for top students who commit to teach in New York for five years.
2. Graduate Education Program Accreditation: The first statewide, uniform admissions standards for teacher preparation programs will be established, and SED will have enhanced authority to close programs that fail to prepare students for the teaching profession.
3. Teacher “Bar” Exam / CTE: The State currently requires teachers to pass a teacher “bar” exam – and will now also require teachers to complete 100 hours of continuing education and recertify every five years or lose their licenses.
4. Teacher Evaluation System: A redesigned teacher evaluation system will be established whereby educators are rated in two categories, student performance and teacher observations.
 Student Performance – Districts will use a standardized state measure, or may choose to use a state-designed supplemental assessment.
 If a teacher receives an Ineffective rating in the state measure subcomponent, the teacher cannot be rated Effective or Highly Effective overall.
 If a local district chooses to use a state-designed supplemental assessment and the teacher is Ineffective when both subcomponents are combined, the teacher must be rated Ineffective overall.
 The state allocates weights for this category and its subcomponents.
 Teacher Observations – This category must contain two subcomponents: principal observations and independent observations. Peer observations may be included at the discretion of the Commissioner.
 If a teacher receives an Ineffective rating in the teacher observation category, the teacher cannot be rated Effective or Highly Effective overall.
 The state allocates weights for this category and its subcomponents.
 Additional information to note: Teachers will be evaluated based on a four point scale. In regulations, the Commissioner shall set scoring bands, cut scores and weights, and the Commissioner must have the system put in place by June 30, 2015. Local districts must put evaluations in place by November 15, 2015, in order to be eligible for increased aid.

Two years after the initial APPR plan the Governor totally changed the plan, teachers weren’t failing, a new test failed students, teachers and principals are angry and hostile, superintendents feel abandoned, in fact, aside from the Governor (and former Commissioner King), no one supports the plan, excuse me, I’m sure US Secretary of Education Duncan also supports the plan.

Why would a high achieving college student decide on a career as a public school teacher? Numerous college programs will probably be closed, and these are programs serving poorer students.

The new observation section is an “unfunded mandate,” how do you identify experienced, skilled evaluators without spending dollars intended for instructional purposes? Yes, a handful of schools will create peer assessment programs, unfortunately very few. I spoke with a number of principals: the observation process requires building trust, it is not a “drive-by,” I believe Charlotte Danielson would agree that a single lesson observation should not determine a teacher’s annual rating. A year or two down the road I believe a judge will find the law “discriminatory, arbitrary and capricous and an abuse of discretion.”

Arne Duncan and John King are true believers;they would aver that New York State is now on the path to changing the direction of the entire school system: decades of schools run for teachers will now become schools run for students; and, Andrew Cuomo jumped on the band wagon.

There is not a scintilla of evidence that all these new initiatives will change the face of education for the better. In fact, the policies very well might be counterproductive.

Duncan, King, and now Cuomo, believe you can threaten, coerce and basically bribe your way to excellence. We know that teachers who teach higher achieving students receive higher grades on lesson observations and teachers teaching poorer, lower achieving students, teachers teaching students with disabilities, receive lower grades. The new plan will accelerate the movement of teachers out of more difficult classes and schools.

Yes, there are successful schools in poor districts, they are characterized by excellent leadership, a team led by a school leader and supported by the school district; unfortunately they are few and far between, and, the school leaders commonly are “plucked” to work in higher achieving schools.

No Child Left Behind was a bi-partisan law lauded across party lines; it is hard to identify any critics. A dozen years later we wonder how we could have been so wrong. The 2002 law required every state to require “progress” each year as measured by annual grades 3-8 Math and English scores, schools that fell behind were sanctioned: transformation, turnaround, and conversion to charter or closings. Closing are a last resort, and more of a failure for the school district that failed to intervene in a timely fashion. The law became a joke on National Public Radio, the town of Lake Woebegone, where all children are above average.

NCLB was popular, the Education Transformation Act of 2015 unpopular, incredibly unpopular. Cuomo may have won a battle, the fight has moved from a skirmish to a war. Cuomo has become a Democratic Scott Walker in a Democratic heavily unionized state.

Cuomo is not an ideologue, the new law resulted from teacher unions not endorsing his candidacy for re-election and teachers clearly favoring his rival, college professor Zephyr Teachout. His actions are vindictive not ideological.

Perhaps Dante’s logo for the Inferno, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” should hang over the portel of our state school system as a warning to potential staff.

The last laugh might be Preet Bharara leading the guv out of the mansion in handcuffs.

Racial Isolation in Public Schools: While School Integration is a Worthy Goal Improving All Schools Must Be Our Primary Goal

In an editorial (“Racial Isolation in Public Schools) the NY Times writes,

New York’s schools are the most segregated in the nation, and the state needs remedies right away … Minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack the teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success in the new economy.

The editorial board makes an incredibly bad assumption: that by moving minority children into primarily white, middle class schools the ills of generations of segregation and racism will be wiped away.

Kudos to Merryl Tisch and the members of the Board of Regents for not jumping onboard the simple solution bandwagon.

High poverty schools are plagued with problems beyond the classroom; at the December, 2014 Regents meeting the issue of “chronic absenteeism” was highlighted. The Center for New York City Affairs, in a recent report, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools,” spotlighted the insidious impact of children not attending school as part of a wider pattern,

Tisch and her colleagues have spent months crafting new English language learner regulations to both remove obstacles to better instructional strategies as well providing clearer guidance to school districts

The Times’ “solution,” is an example of deja vu, again,

… the state cannot just throw up its hands. It has a moral obligation to ensure that as many children as possible escape failing schools for ones that give them a fighting chance. And history has shown that districts can dramatically improve educational opportunities for minority children — and reduce racial isolation — with voluntary transfer plans and especially with high-quality magnet schools that attract middle-class families.

Running away from the problems of high poverty neighborhoods, running away from what the Center for NYC Affairs called “risk load,” running away from in increasing numbers of English language learners is foolhardy.

To blame inner city schools for the “problem” is just plain wrong, The Times claims that the “lack of teaching talent, course offerings and resources” can be cured by moving kids to whiter, middle class schools. If the inner city and suburban school swapped teachers student achievement would be unchanged. When kids enter kindergarten well behind middle class kids in all academic skills teaching and learning becomes “catchup” from day 1. The requirement of passing five Regents exams results in double periods of English and Mathematics, remedial and tutorial classes, the lack of course offerings is determined by the skill level of the students.

Fifty years ago New York City embarked upon an effort to integrate schools. James Madison High School, a high-achieving large high school in a lovely neighborhood of private homes was “integrated;” within a few years the school moved from all-white to 70% White and 30% Black. The new principal, Henry Hillson, was a shining light among high school principals, the UFT Chapter Leader, Chet Fulmer, sent his kids to a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant as part of a reverse busing program, and, although white, served as an elder in Milton Galamaison’s Siloam Church in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The young Madison staff members enthusiastically supported the “experiment” in school integration. The end of January staff development days focused on the “new” student body and “new” methods of instruction and integrating students within the building. The “old timers” were unenthusiastic about school integration, the school was “ruined,” the new young teachers, and I was one of them, were totally engaged in creating a new school, a new racially integrated school, a model for a new school system.

A decade later Madison was torn apart by student racial clashes,

SCHOOL IS CLOSED BY RACIAL CLASH
Outbreak at Madison High in Flatbush Involves 300 New Fights Threatened

White students at James Madison High School in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, armed with sticks, window poles, pipes, canes and chairs, attacked a group of black students there yesterday morning in a new outbreak of continuing racial tension at the school.

The riot was deeply disturbing, if racial integration stumbled at Madison, could it be expected to succeed anywhere? Madison had a socially liberal, welcoming staff; the school was located in a liberal community, what went wrong?

The NYC Human Rights Commission conducted an in depth study, spending weeks in the school interviewing scores of students, teachers, parents and community members. The report was prescient, forty years later we have failed to resolve the issues highlighted in the report. (A sobering read forty years later)

The 1974 report begins, “Even when integration has succeeded in becoming a major goal of education and urban planners, the means to attain this goal have seemed increasingly elusive” and goes on to admit, “In too many instances across the nation we have seen schools become integrated only to become resegregated … we know how to integrate …what we do not know is how to make integration work on a permanent basis.”

The commissioners praise the Madison staff, although they note the hostility of the old-timers.

The problem of integration, the Commission avers, goes well beyond the school,

“The relationship schools and neighborhoods is a close and reciprocal one but plans for integration almost never foresee the differences or strive to make the relationship between the newly integrated school and its neighborhood a healthy one.”

Perceptively, the report writes, “The Commission believes that the operative factor here is class, rather than race.” The better educated, liberal elements in the community supported the integration of the school, the more blue-collar, less educated elements in the community led the growing opposition, and, many of their children were involved in the physical confrontations.

While the school was technically integrated, classes in the school were largely segregated; classes were homogeneously organized, as were extra-curricular activities.

The report suggests 13 recommendations and admits “…little has been done anywhere in the country to develop practical strategies to cope with the daily challenges of integration to make integration work.”

In September, 1975 the city tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, 15,000 teachers were laid off and the city administration abandoned support for school integration.

Buffalo, as the Times editorial states, was deeply engaged in school integration,

As The Times reported in 1985, the city was viewed as a national model for racial integration; educators who wished to learn the lessons of Buffalo’s success flocked to the city from around the globe. Things went downhill in the 1990s, however, when court supervision ended and Buffalo experienced severe fiscal problems.

“Severe fiscal problems” escalated over the last twenty years, industry and population have fled, and white flight has turned Buffalo into an empty shell, a city without resources, a city surrounded by affluent suburbs, a city with a rapidly increasing school population of English language learners.

Just as the fiscal crisis of 1975 ended efforts to promote racial integration in New York City the collapse of the Buffalo economy turned Buffalo into a racially segregated, economically distressed city.

Inner city schools in St Louis, in Rochester, in Chicago, in city after city across the nation face the same issues. Working class union jobs are gone, jobs have scurried to Asia, and automation continues to shrink the work force. Charter schools have drained students with social capital out of neighborhood public schools, and, a closer look at charter schools is not encouraging; when you adjust for the absence of special education and English language learners in charter schools, when you adjust for the expulsion of “discipline problems;” charter schools are no better and in many instances lower achievers than public schools.

There are outliers, schools in poor neighborhoods that outperform neighboring schools; the answer is always school leadership and school staffs, not measured by a score on a principal-teacher evaluation, “measured” by the non-cognitive skills. School staffs that exhibit grit, persistence and humility, the same qualities that we find in successful students.

Black kids ask, “Why can’t we learn in schools with other black kids? Do we need white kids to learn?” The 1974 Commission report emphasizes the influence of class as well as the impact of race. Black families that move up the economic ladder are as likely to seek out better housing in lower crime neighborhoods as white families.

I was visiting classroom in an all-Black public high school in Harlem, a European History Advanced Placement class. The lesson was about the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the lesson was at the level of a lesson at the most prestigious schools in the city.

The race of the students in a school does not determine the level of instruction or the course offerings, the academic level of the students determines the direction of instruction.

While NYS law does not allow for the state taking over a school district, in the instance that a law was passed that allowed the state to take over the Roosevelt School District the results were not encouraging.

“Solutions” must include the community, the electeds, the union, the business and faith-based communities; all what we euphemistically call “the stakeholders.”

Unfortunately Governor Cuomo, rather than leading efforts to engage the Buffalo community has chosen a confrontational path, a path that will only drive the stakeholders further apart.

In the poorest county in the nation, McDowell County in West Virginia, the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia governor, the business community and fifty other organizations are organizing and working together.

All fights end, and it is essential that the current toxic climate between the governor and the educational community end, perhaps Chancellor Tisch and the Regents can take the lead.