Tag Archives: de Blasio

Ridding Schools of the Bloomberg/Klein Toxicity: Ending the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool in New York City is Long Overdue

The 74 is a national online education website co-founded by Campbell Brown, a former news anchor and virulent enemy of teacher unions, supporter of charter schools and Betsy; it is an advocacy website masquerading as a an informational site.

I was not surprised when a post by Dan Weisberg, former Joel Klein soldier popped up on the 74 site.  Weisberg currently leads TNTP, a not-for-profit that has consistently attacked teacher tenure and teacher assessment. The post, “Paying Teachers Not to Teach is Absurd – but Reviving NYC’s Dance of the Lemons Hurts Kids,” sounds like one of the endless press releases from the Bloomberg-Klein machine. Klein, an attorney, surrounded himself with attorneys, and we know what Shakespeare said about lawyers . Klein and Weisberg and company portrayed themselves as “disrupters,” changing the system by breaking down and rebuilding  from scratch, by creating chaos and building a new system from the ground up. After a dozen years of disruptive change the administration succeeded in disruption and failed to ensure positive change. The whirlwind of policy change after policy change alienated principals and teachers and confused the public.

On the eve of the 2013 mayoral election Sol Stern, in a City Journal essay offering advice to the new mayor wrote,

The public, for its part, remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools, according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics ….  New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents 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.

A little background: for decades a few hundred teachers were excessed at the end of a school year, some schools had reduced registers, other schools had increasing registers. The excess teachers were placed in schools with vacancies, The contract Excessing Rules provided an orderly transition since the first contracts in the early sixties.

Another section of the contract provided for Seniority Transfers, half of all vacancies, vacancies were defined as open positions due to retirement or resignation, not leaves of absence, and posted in the Spring, In the early nineties a school approached the union with a plan, exempt the school from seniority transfers and a school committee made up of a majority of teachers would select new hires. The union agreed and after a few years the process was embedded in the contract. By the Bloomberg ascension 60% of schools had opted for what became known as the School-Based Option Staffing and Transfer Plan.

In the article referenced above Weisberg, with obvious pride, reports that he led the part of the negotiations that eliminated seniority transfers and established the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

The union was pushing for the SBO Staffing/Transfer Plan to replace the seniority transfer plan – it was easy to agree to the Open Market employment system – any teacher could move to any school with the approval of the receiving school; basically all teachers became “free agents” at the end of every school year. Thousands upon thousands of teachers change school every year, and, the movement is commonly from high poverty, lower achieving schools to higher achieving schools.

The evidence is clear, teacher mobility damages high poverty, low-achieving schools, In “Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility, Li Feng and Tim Sass (February, 2011) conclude,

The most effective teachers who transfer tend to go to schools whose faculties are in the top quartile of teacher quality. Teacher mobility exacerbates differences in teacher quality across schools.

Numerous studies come to the same conclusion,

Hamilton Langford and others, “Explaining the Short Career of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students,” (January, 2004),

Low achieving students often are taught by the least qualified teachers, these disparities begin when teachers take their first jobs and in urban areas they are worsened by teacher subsequent decisions to transfer and quit. Such quits and transfers increase disparities …  more qualified teachers are substantially more likely to leave schools having the lowest achieving students 

The long established seniority transfer plan required five years of service before a transfer – now annual “free agency,” the “disrupters” harmed the most vulnerable schools.

Weisberg, et. al., also are proud of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, actually an attempt to rid the system is “bad teachers,” or maybe senior teachers, or maybe union activists or maybe simply to show the union and teachers who really was in charge.

The number of U-ratings under Klein/Weisberg escalated dramatically, close to 3% of teacher received unsatisfactory ratings. The appeals were a sham, the Department was judge and jury. Accusations of misconduct, defined as any conduct the principal thought was inappropriate, conduct that in prior years might result in a letter of reprimand now resulted in a trip to the infamous “rubber room.”. Eventually the teacher was dumped into the ATR pool; of the small number of teachers who were brought up on charges the vast percentage were exonerated or paid a fine and were returned to the ATR pool. The aim was to convince the legislature to change the law and require the teachers in the ATR pool for more than six months would be laid off. The union successfully defended seniority layoff rules.

Under the new teacher assessment law, based on principal observation and student growth scores, the number of ineffective ratings shrunk to pre-Bloomberg numbers.

The deBlasio-Farina Department has announced that ATRs would fill vacancies occurring after October 15th, and, if they received effective or highly effective ratings under the matrix teacher evaluation law, would be fully absorbed into schools, ending a toxic policy and saving the school system perhaps $100 million a year.

The “March of the Lemons” referenced by Weisberg should not refer to the teachers, it should refer to the “disrupters.” would soured the school system.

Additionally, the Department should consider:

* Creating an inspectorate, a group of principals who can observe ATRs who principals think are moving towards an ineffective rating. In the pre-Bloomberg days it was commonplace for the superintendent to observe teachers in their last year of probation.

* Open Market transfers require five years of service in a school to be eligible for transfer, not the current annual “free agency.”

* Renewal and Focus/Priority schools should be given a window prior to all other schools to hire staff – perhaps six or eight weeks before all other schools could commence hiring.

Each and every year the New York City school system has to hire 3-4,000 new teachers due to teacher attrition – about 40% of teachers leave within five years, and, in the neediest schools the percentage is far higher.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers project at Harvard published research findings, “Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools, (March , 2004), as well as continuing their research into the issue.

Unfortunately little of the research has translated into policies within school districts and schools.

Good riddance to the ATR pool, and, lets help teachers who need assistance and support our new teachers.

Healing and supporting makes a lot more sense than disrupting and angering.

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“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.

Schadenfreude: Cuomo, de Blasio, Machiavelli and the Turbulent World of New York State Politics

When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F. Kennedy

The Germans have a wonderful word: schadenfreude – taking pleasure in other people’s misfortunes.

Preet Bahara, the US Attorney for the Southern District is the most powerful person in New York State, for some the archangel bringing truth and justice to political maelstrom, to others, collecting scalps on his belt to burnish his own reputation.

For psychologists Andrew Cuomo is a fascinating study: Is he spending his life trying to fulfill his father’s dream – the highest office in the land? The honey-tongued elder Cuomo hypnotized the 1984 Democratic National Convention with his “Tale of Two Cities” keynote address (watch U-Tube here). In December, 1991 everyone knew that Mario was about to launch his presidential campaign – the plane was warming up on the runway, Cuomo was about to fly off to New Hampshire for the first in the nation primary, unexpectedly, he withdrew, never giving a coherent reason.

Son Andrew followed his father’s career, serving his second term as governor, at times acerbic, a very effective political street fighter. He tiptoes between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, avoids ethics reforms, supported the “Fight for Fifteen,” failed to support the Dream Act legislation, went to war with the teacher’s union, and, backed off and pushed out  Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch. Every move carefully calculated for the run to the White House his father abjured.

Cuomo’s hatchet man, alter ego and a boyhood friend is Joe Percoco. His father called Percoco his “other son.” Percoco was the gatekeeper, whatever the issue, whatever the piece of legislation, you went to Joe. His title changed, his role never changed.

The leader of the Democratic Party was Andrew Cuomo. The election of the left-leaning progressive Bill de Blasio changed nothing and Cuomo immediately made it clear – he was the noble in the castle and de Blasio had to pay homage, or, face the consequences.

Every opportunity he got Cuomo made it clear – he was the liberal, the progressive, not de Blasio. Whether or not another Democrat runs against de Blasio a year from now is yet to be decided, Cuomo was not backing de Blasio, at best staying on the sidelines, maybe throwing support to an opponent.

8 AM, Thursday morning everything changed,  Percoco was arrested, along eight others and charged with a litany of crimes – basically accepting dollars for favors connected with the Buffalo Billions, a Cuomo favored project to revive upstate. The Buffalo Billion was at the core of the Cuomo resume – if he could revive Buffalo, revive upstate New York, he could do the same for the rust belts across the nation

There was joy in de Blasioville as the Mighty Andrew struck out (Excuse  me- I couldn’t resist – it’s the culmination of the baseball season).

A few hours later the joy ebbed. Scott Stringer, the popular Comptroller of New York City was the keynote speaker at the ABNY (Association for a Better New York) breakfast. The ABNY breakfast is an annual affair attended by elites in the city: from the business side, the labor side, everyone attends the ABNY breakfast. Stringer gave a speech that was close as one can get to an announcement that he’s a mayoral candidate. Stringer laid out his economic vision for the city, a speech one would expect to come from the mayor. He followed up the speech with an appearance on popular WNYC Brian Lehrer program.

de Blasio’s approval ratings are abysmal a year before the Democratic mayoral primary,

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approval rating remains close to a record low as half the city’s voters say he doesn’t deserve re-election in 2017, a Quinnipiac University poll found.

De Blasio’s approval rating is 42 percent, little changed from a May 24 survey that showed support of 41 percent, his lowest since he took office Jan. 1, 2014. In the poll released Monday, 51 percent disapprove of the Democratic mayor’s performance and 50 percent say he doesn’t deserve a second term.

If Stringer, or Public Advocate Letitia James or Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams chooses to challenge de Blasio they could not run for second terms in their current offices. High risk, high reward.

Republicans are sharpening their political knives – a weakened governor and a chance to keep up the attack and seize the governorship in 2018. A very popular Democratic Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, waiting in the wings in case Cuomo does not run, or, becomes so unpopular that he’s vulnerable to a Democratic challenger.  The Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, might find that a damaged governor needs friends, really needs friends. The arrogant lord of the Albany manor might not be as arrogant as the vultures begin to circle. Yes, lots of “mights,” politics is far from an exact science.

While de Blasio’s polling numbers; clearly beaten down with the assistance of the governor, might not be accurately reflected in the polls, minorities: Afro-American, Asian and Latino are a majority in voters in New York City.  de Blasio hosted an education forum in Canarsie Thursday night, a full house. Canarsie is a neighborhood of private homes, a middle class neighborhood with an Afro-American population, primarily of Caribbean descent. The mayor was well-received, the Department of Education upper echelons answered questions, the mayor chimed in, lots of applause; the mayor was at home. While Staten Island and the Upper West Side might deride the de Blasio mayoralty the majority of voters, the numerous ethnic communities might be firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Rumor has it there is a dog-eared copy of The Prince on the governor’s nightstand with the followed phrases highlighted.

“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...”


“I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.”

“…he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.” 

“A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.”

Maybe Andrew’s been reading the wrong book, or underlining the wrong sections.

The Politicization of State Tests: Creating Tests in Which “All Students in New York State Are Above Average”

When the dust cleared the greatest ally to the anti-testing clique was (roll of drums!!!)  MaryEllen Elia, the New York State Commissioner of Education.

The deeply flawed state tests (“All children are above average”) reignited the argument – why do we have state test at all (aside from the federal requirements)?

Statewide ELA test scores jumped by around 7% – although the racial achievement gap remained the same.

A magic potion, incompetence or simply political legerdemain?

A little review: in September, 2015 Governor Cuomo reconvened a blue ribbon panel, actually a process to repair the Governor’s foolhardy attacks on teachers and parents. In 2014 it appeared that Cuomo had a clear path the Democratic nomination for his second term and deep pockets for the November general election. Seemingly out of nowhere Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham challenged Cuomo for the Working Families Party spot on the ballot and challenged Cuomo in the Democratic primary. While the teacher union made no endorsement some members and locals were on the Teachout side. After defeating Teachout and Rob Astorino, his Republican challenger Cuomo decided to punish teachers. He cozied up to the charter school folks, used the budgeting process to tack on legislation to extend teacher probation, and, was nastier than usual.  NYSUT, the statewide teacher union responded with a series of aggressive TV ads and the opt-out movement was created, 20% of kids opted-out of the 2015 state tests.

Cuomo’s popularity rating tumbled.

I suspect clearer heads prevailed.

The purpose of the Task Force was to guide education policy from afar and place the Board of Regents and the commissioner in the foreground. The recommendations were more than recommendations; they were a pathway for state education policy. (Cuomo: This is the endgame – you figure us out how to get us there)

The Task Force Report (Read here), which was released in December, contained twenty-one recommendations, the last recommendation was a moratorium on the use of state tests to evaluate principals and teachers for four years, applauded by the teacher union.  The recommendations called for a thorough review of the Common Core Standards and teachers would be included in every step of the process.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new Standardized tests aligned to the standards; not controversial, garnered little,  if any discussion; perhaps a pilot in a few schools and school districts across the state.

Surprisingly, very surprisingly, without any discussion with the Board of Regents, the Commissioner announced that the 2016 state tests would be untimed.

The January announcement, entitled “Changes for the 2016 Grades 3-8 ELA and Mathematics Tests” begins,

This memo outlines changes made as a result of feedback from the field:

* Greater involvement of educators in the test development process

* Decrease in the number of test questions, and

* A shift to untimed testing

The announcement came from Angela Infante, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Instructional Support and Peter Swerdewski, Assistant Commissioner, Office of State Assessment.

The state document states, “…students will be provided with as much time as they need.” No pilot, no transition, jumping off the diving board into the pool, and, the state made no attempt to identify students who took additional time.

The scores soared, the state commissioner, in the Daily News admits the scores are “not exactly a perfect comparison,”

After widespread opposition to the difficulty of the tests erupted in 2015, state education department officials shortened the exams for 2016 and eliminated time limits.

“Because of the changes in testing, it’s not exactly a perfect comparison,” Elia said. “And even with the increases this year, there remains much work to be done.”

The state spent many millions of dollars purchasing tests, teachers and students months of test prep, to collect data from what turns out to be a non-standardized test. A test that might not even meet federal requirements, although I’m sure the feds will simply ignore the faux jump in scores.

Was the test itself “harder” or “easier;” many months down the road a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) will release a report, hundreds of pages of dense analysis that few will read and fewer will understand.

The basic questions: are the results of the test useful?  Can they be compared with the previous year? Can schools and school districts be compared? And, at the top of the list: are the schools in New York State making academic progress?

Howard Wainer, a Distinguished Research Scientist, the author of innumerable books and articles, an internationally recognized expert writes,

Because of the changes this year’s scores can’t be compared to last year’s and because of the untimed nature of the test (and there being no record of how long anyone took) you can’t compare scores of students who took it this year with one another. It is, in no uncertain terms, an unstandardized test.

This test is akin to measuring children’s heights but allowing some students, we don’t know who, to stand on a stool, we don’t know how high, and then declaring some taller than others.

Fred Smith, another testing expert, writing in City Limits, had doubts about the validity of the test before the test administration.

Either the state education psychometrician is lacking in competence, or knew by adopting untimed tests scores would likely jump – either is unacceptable.

If the state continues down the same path, retaining the untimed tests, even if it keeps track of students who take extra time, and the amount of extra time, we will be once again be comparing apples to oranges. Kids who take extra time or choose not to take extra time may not be the same kids as this year – we simply can’t know.

Will states across the nation also jump on the untimed tests bandwagon?

In the politicized world of education the charter school folk and their acolytes beamed at higher scores, of course, we have no way of knowing why charter school scores were generally higher than public schools, and, the pro-charter print media crowed. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina also took a victory lap, and the Mayor immediately claimed the scores were proof that mayoral control be made permanent.

Board of Regents Chancellor Rosa reminded us it’s not time for a victory lap, unfortunately everyone else is milking the results – de Blasio and Farina, the charters and principals and teachers are breathing a sigh of relief.

A perverse kind of victimless crime: except for the kids who were tortured preparing for a non-standardized test.

Although the law has changed, No Child Left Behind has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act; the requirement for annual testing in grades 3-8 remains. The Leadership Conference is an umbrella group representing the major civil rights organizations across the spectrum has strongly supported the accountability requirements, aka, testing and reporting scores by subgroup, and, the law is not changing.

Testing is here to stay.

The US Department of Education has announced they will be selecting six or so states or consortiums of states to play with alternate assessments.

The anti-testing crowd points to the new law and the testing kerfuffle in New York State, why not move to portfolios and performance tasks to current replace testing? This is not a new idea.

Vermont spent a decade working to create an assessment system based on portfolios, and after an external report pointed to fatal flaws, abandoned the effort.

…report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low. The researchers urged the state to release the assessment results only at the state level.

Daniel M. Koretz, a senior social scientist at RAND and the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

Can thousands of teachers be expected to rate portfolios the same?

The portfolio process was expensive, extremely time consuming  and there is no guarantee the portfolio work was not “assisted” by parents or others .

Yes, portfolios and performance tasks are effective classroom tools and in the perfect world might be a way of assessing student progress, in the real world, the world in which we live, it is not reasonable to expect inter-rater reliability.

The anti-testing movement will not disappear and the opt-out movement is alive.

What is absent is leadership – Arne Duncan drove us down a path for seven years that divided education: reformers versus deformers, marketeers versus public schools, unions versus the hedge funders: education is bitterly divided. Will the next president nominate an education leader who can bring together the disparate constituencies?

Education is adrift and the unstandardized testing regimen in New York State is a prime example.

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?

Suspensions, the School to Prison Pipeline, de Blasio and the 2017 Mayoral Election: “All Politics is Local.”

A few weeks after de Blasio won the election in November, 2013 I wandered over to the transition tent on Canal Street; the de Blasio transition team was sponsoring a series of panels. Experts and the “community” was expressing opinions and asking for public input: infrastructure, policing, sanitation and education. The education panel was made up of a leader of the Harlem NAACP, pastors from a few churches and community activists. One of the speakers decried the large numbers of black children suspended in pre-kindergarten. I was sitting next to a high-ranking Department of Education official, I looked over at him, he shrugged and began tapping into his phone – he shook his head – the assertion was totally wrong; however, it didn’t matter.  The panelists “knew,” beyond a doubt, that school was the pipeline to prison and that there was a direct link between suspensions of Afro-American males, high school drop-outs, and prison,

Read an ACLU Report here.

Read Tavis Smiley article here.

As we inch toward the September, 2017 Democratic mayoral primary and the November general election the potential candidates are maneuvering, de Blasio’s approval ratings are in the tank and he is appealing to his base constituency, the Afro-American community.

The suspension rules are explicitly spelled in Department regulations.

New York City has a detailed discipline code; a code that was revised last year limited student behaviors that were subject to suspensions.

New York City School Discipline Code: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CD69C859-524C-43E1-AF25-C49543974BBF/0/DiscCodebookletApril2015FINAL.pdf

 As a result of the changes, and mostly because of pressures from the top, suspension rates have dropped sharply. The New York Daily News reports,

Starting in 2015, city Education Department officials made it more difficult for principals to suspend students as part of a larger effort to improve school climate.

As a result of the changes, city schools boss Carmen Fariña reported in March that suspensions fell 31.7 % from July to December 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.

The push came at least in part from de Blasio, who had criticized suspension policies as discriminatory toward black and Hispanic kids since his days as Public Advocate.

A few weeks ago the Department announced that suspensions in grades K – 2 would be bared completely.

Teacher union president Michael Mulgrew, in an op ed in the New York Daily News was critical,

In a perfect world, no child under the age of 8 would ever be suspended. Every student having a discipline crisis would have the proper interventions. Every classroom would be a positive learning environment.

Unfortunately, children in crisis who are disrupting classrooms are not going to be helped by the latest plan by the city’s Department of Education to ban suspensions outright in grades K-2, and neither will the thousands of other children who will lose instruction as a result of those disruptions.

Mulgrew was reflecting the views of his members as well as the principals across the system. I called a principal acquaintance,

“Yes, I plead guilty, I suspended kids in grades K – 2, and I doubt it resolved anything except it gave the teacher a respite from dealing with a few kids who are out of control. I wish I had a behavior specialist, a psychologist on staff, I don’t. A suspension gets the parent or the caregiver up to school and maybe we can work together and find some outside assistance for the kid. I suggested at a principal’s meeting that we chip in and hire an expert who we could share, my senior colleagues told me to back off, it was perceived by the superintendent as a criticism of her leadership.

Since the Great Recession of 2008 the numbers of psychologists, counselors, social workers and nurses in schools has been sharply curtailed. Yes, it is helpful to have reading and math specialists; specialists can only assist students who are ready to learn. How many of our students live in shelters, in foster care, have an incarcerated parent, a substance-abuse addicted parent or guardian, how many are food insecure, live in gang and crime infested neighborhoods?  The answer is simple: far too many. Principals and teachers must deal with the impact of the world outside of school in classrooms. Not an excuse, we take full responsibility for improving student outcomes; addressing the burdens placed on students and families by factors beyond the control of school must be the responsibility of our elected representatives.

A principal arranged for brand new winter jackets to be donated to all of his kids: attendance improved. Another held a barbeque once a month at the end of parent meetings, parents began coming to the meetings. Did the principal training program include teaching you how to check social media to see if there were any fights over the weekend that might spill over into your building?

Has anyone done a study of the impact of out of control kids on the rest of the class?

I asked an experienced principal if suspensions had a positive impact on the kid who was suspended.

There are some egregious acts, bringing a weapon to school, serious fights that must be dealt with sternly. Suspensions may impact the student who committed the act as well as the rest of the school. Restorative disciplinary practices are fine, principals and their staffs must have access to  a toolkit;  a wide range of approaches that fit the situation – removing a tool, suspensions simply makes the job harder and solutions more difficult.

I asked the same principal, a thoughtful guy, whether, in his view, suspension, was an essential part of the school to prison pipeline.

Don’t get me started, can I single out kids in early childhood grades that probably won’t graduate and will get in trouble with the law – sadly, yes. Try as we might, each year we lose a few more kids to the culture of the streets. The signs are clear: poor attendance, more fights, the wrong friends, we see it every year. We try to reel them back in, sometimes successful, too often not.

Believe it or not we are only thirteen months away from the Democratic mayoral primary. Shortly after the presidential election candidates will have to begin their campaigns: raising dollars and raising their profile. With low polling numbers will a Democrat decide that de Blasio is so damaged that he’s vulnerable?  Does Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, or Letitia James, the Public Advocate want to give up their positions to run for mayor, or, wait four years? How about Reuben Diaz, the Bronx Borough President? Or, maybe a Republican who can raise the mega-dollars – is there another Rudy Giuliani?  For twenty years the heavily Democratic city had Republican mayors. How about Eva Moskowitz?

In my mind there is no question that the UFT, the teacher union is firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Politico has doubts.

The political harmony between Mayor Bill de Blasio and United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew has faded in recent months, with Mulgrew issuing a series of denunciations of City Hall’s key education agenda items.

“We strongly believe that if the DOE properly managed existing programs, the number of suspensions for students under the age of eight would be greatly diminished,” Mulgrew wrote. “Better management would also result in more schools developing a positive culture of discipline and respect. Given the DOE’s poor track record in this area, we cannot support the plan at this time.”

To criticize actions of the Department of Education is not a “series of denunciations;” in mature labor-management relationships the parties can “agree to disagree.”  The actions of the chancellor in whittling away at the discipline code, in sharply reducing the number of suspensions,  we understand, is a political act; an appeal to a constituency that firmly believes that the act of suspension leads to dire consequences for Afro-American males.

All politics is local.

The union president is acting responsibly – he is representing his members, and, the parents of children across the city – you cannot simply bar suspensions without addressing the underlying issues – unacceptable behavior.  The Department cannot simply wave a magic wand and claim restorative justice practices are an alternative to suspension. Principals and teacher must have a wide range of tools to address unacceptable behavior, and to address the social and emotional deficits that result in these behaviors. Schools needs mental health professionals to work with children and their families as well as to work with school staffs and a wider range of alternative settings.

To call out the chancellor is not a sign of political dissatisfaction with the mayor; it is a union leader representing his members.

In the cauldron od politics someone is polling to see whether supporting suspensions will have a positive political impact.

A political axiom: win the election first, making a better world comes next.

Mayoral Control, Appointed or Elected Boards of Education: Are Urban School Districts Governable?

About 4 AM next Friday morning one of houses of the state legislature will adjourn closing out the session; with cries of they have to return over the summer to complete this issue or that issue. Extremely unlikely.

The bills will come across the legislators desks at a rapid pace, with most voted before they are read. A few are high profile: closing loopholes in the campaign finance law, legalizing fantasy sports gambling, a constitutional amendment to deprive convicted legislators of their pensions, and, mayoral control of New York City schools, the vast majority of the bills are far, far under the radar.

The Assembly bill extends mayoral control for three years; the Senate bill extends mayoral control for one year and creates an Inspector, appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate with sweeping powers. If no action is taken the system reverts to a seven-member board appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor.

The governor supports a three year extension and the power elites support continuing mayoral control. Merryl Tisch in an op ed in the NY Daily News supports extending mayoral control.

Tisch posits,

Mayoral control has not worked perfectly under either Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Mayor de Blasio, but it has worked far better than what we had before. New York City has seen consistent, significant increases in graduation rates, greater accountability across the system and the introduction of robust school choice — giving students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for a quality education. Critically, unlike the system that preceded mayoral control, we now know who is in charge. The voters ultimately can hold the CEO of the city accountable for how well our children learn.

Famously, when someone criticized a Bloomberg educational policy he responded, “Don’t vote for me next time.”

Although the mayoral control debate will end in a few days it has been characterized by an absence of debate.

Has “robust school choice” given “students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for quality education” or further segregated the school system by race, class and income?

The Bloomberg administration created scores of “screened” schools, schools that only accepts kids with high test scores, creating “have” and “have not” schools. Were these schools created to “provide school choice” or to win over middle class parents and garner potential voters?

Numbers of school suspensions have dropped dramatically: are our kids better behaved, do our teachers have been peace-making skills or did the chancellor simply tighten the faucet on approving suspensions?

Under a mayoral control system every announcement, every initiative is accompanied by a carefully crafted press release. I’m sure that the “mayor’s person” is sitting at the table vetting the political impact of every decision.

The previous seven-member appointed board has been vilified as being too political, I have to smile. The borough president appointee fought for projects for their borough while the mayor fights for projects for the entire city, or, his/her voting base.

Under the current mayoral control system the Community Educational Councils (CEC) are toothless and superintendents carry the Tweed policy torch. While under the prior elected school board system the poorest districts had the least effective boards there were highly effective boards that responded to local communities.

District 2 in Manhattan under the leadership of an innovative superintendent had an extensive and effective professional development program that impacted classroom instruction. District 22 in Brooklyn bused over 1,000 Afro-American kids for integration purposes, no court order, it was simply the right thing to do; they also implemented school-based budgeting with empowered school and district leadership teams. A superintendent in the poorest district in Brooklyn, appointed by the chancellor unified a fractious district and improved student outcomes.

Does the current mayoral-guided system build sustainability or will the next and the next school district leader impose their view of education policy?

Unfortunately educational policy appears to be the flavor of the week.

Transparency and open debate must guide all change processes. Participation reduces resistance.

Teachers and parents increasingly came to despise Bloomberg/Klein mayoral control hubris – if you don’t like the policy, don’t vote for me.  So far the de Blasio/Farina interregnum has had a kinder and gentler face. While Bloomberg/Klein treated teachers like replaceable widgets deBlasio/Farina have constantly praised the workforce.

The larger issue is creating a process that has highly competent leadership at the top and local leaders with the ability and support to make the right decisions at the school level.

Next week a decision will be made; probably to continue mayoral control, maybe with a blue ribbon commission to review the current iteration.

Parents, teachers and school leaders voice must be part of any school governance process.