Tag Archives: de Blasio

And the Next New York City Schools Chancellor Will/ Or, Will Not Be (According to the NY Times, and friends) …..

It’s been thirty days and no leadership decision has been made , no, not the schools chancellor, the NY Giants coach! For many New Yorkers a far more important decision than who occupies the seat in the Tweed Courthouse  (the ornate 19th century building that houses the Department of Education). There is no time frame for the decision, the mayor announced that Carmen Farina, the current chancellor, will be retiring and a replacement will be named in the coming months.

The speculation began as whispers and has now become a contest. Eva Moskowitz came out with her list of fourteen possibilities. A friend half-joked, “If I really wanted the job that’s a list I would not want to be on.”

Charles Sahm, at the Manhattan Institute mused over possible contenders, “Six intriguing candidates for New York City chancellor”.

Chalkbeat, the education website joined in with its list of possibles, “What you should know about seven people who could be the next New York City chancellor.”.

Eliza Shapiro at Politico took a different tack, “Here’s Who Won’t Be the Next NYC Chancellor.”

A New York Times editorial endorsed a list of candidates praising the Bloomberg years and demeaning the de Blasio/Farina years, “Some Bright Hopes for NYC Schools.”

Let’s conduct an exercise, a list of qualities or requirements necessary in the next chancellor: experience in leading a large urban school system and/or a record of success in prior educational leadership posts, demonstrated experience in working with parent and advocacy groups, especially the teacher union, experience in working in New York City would be helpful, plus, demonstrated experience in working in a highly politicized environment, a public persona with a demonstrated ability to communicate with media outlets (“get out the message”), and, the key acknowledgment: you are not a superintendent or a chancellor, in reality, in a mayoral control city you are the deputy mayor for education. Every policy decision you make will be vetted by the mayor and you will be expected to successfully implement mayoral initiatives.

Next step: Do any of the “candidates” referenced above fit the bill?

How about someone who (a) created and implemented the only large urban city program for low performing schools that was successful, (b) successfully led two large urban school systems, and (c) in her last job led the nation in academic growth in the third largest school system in the nation “Chicago leading nation in growth scores.

Before you get too excited, Barbara Byrd Bennett had a secret, she was a compulsive gambler and illegally took dollars from vendors, she is currently a “guest” of the federal government.

Rumors were that she was the de Blasio # 1 choice four years ago, she declined, she had promised to complete her contractual obligation in Chicago.

Of all the “speculations” the New York Times is the furthest out of the mainstream. The editorial folk at the Times are fixated on the chaotic twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg,

Mayor Bill de Blasio took control of New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, four years ago, denouncing the aggressive, data-driven approach to school improvement that his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had used with considerable success. Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña — who recently announced her retirement — shared his vague agenda.

…  the proven school managers whose accomplishments make them appealing candidates will be hesitant to accept the post in the absence of a clear, compelling mayoral vision and backing for forceful action on behalf of students.

The mayor has described his mission over the next four years as promoting equity and excellence, but those goals remain largely out of reach, even as test scores have inched up and graduation rates have risen. In fact, the city needs to move more urgently on three fronts: ending profound racial segregation; closing failing schools while opening better ones; and finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system.

How fast the editorial writers forget:

  • Four major management system upheavals that kept the school system in permanent turmoil. (from Regions, to ill-defined Knowledge Networks, to Empowerment to Affinity Networks)
  • The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) system, a Bloomberg/Klein “innovation”
  • The Open Market Transfer system, actually “teacher free agency,” teachers can move from school to school, moving from high poverty, lower performing to higher performing schools guaranteeing that low performing schools would be continually staffed by neophyte teachers.
  • The “data-driven” systems included SESEIS, an online special education database that was a disaster and actually deprived students of services rather than tracking services.
  • Creating over a hundred “screened” schools, increasing segregation and pulling higher achieving kids out of poor schools effectively lowering achievement in those schools.

I could go on and on; yes, the Bloomberg/Klein leadership closed 150 schools, many, not all, were beyond repair, and created 500 schools, initially with academic gains, gains that have eroded; however, the battles with teachers and their union extinguished many of the early accomplishments.

Is the de Blasio/Farina agenda “vague,”?  Universal PreK and 3 for All (PreK for 3-year olds beginning in the poorest district) will positively impact lives for generations.

Ending profound segregation,” has a nice ring; only 14% of the children in the school system are white and most children attend hyper-segregated schools that reflect neighborhoods.

 “Closing failing schools and creating better ones,” seems simple, no one has found a magic bullet. Closing an elementry school and opening a successor school in the same building has not been a winning strategy.

“ …finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system,” is exactly what the current de Blasio negotiated union contract does, sets aside time each week for professional development; retaining the best teachers in the highest poverty schools under the Bloomberg “free agency” and data mania has driven teachers to higher performing schools or out of the system. The Times doesn’t know, or, fails to comprehend, the current New York State teacher evaluation system includes expedited hearings, allows management to bring charges after two “ineffective” ratings and moves the burden of proof to the teacher.

The Bloomberg years, like former partners, look better in retrospect, the pain and anguish fades.

Picking winners, like picking school/school district leaders can be a “roll of the dice.”

I’ve participated in interviews, sat in audiences while superintendent candidates were interviewed and watched interviews online, all sort of “speed dating.”

For some you kept glancing at your watch, it was agony to listen; others were glib, well-rehearsed answers, a few charming; however, the quality of the interview does not translate into the effectiveness on the job. You vet, you contact the former employer, parents and electeds and I called the teacher union leader.

It’s hard to see someone without ties to the city leading a 1.1 million children system, a system so embroiled in political agendas. Dan Drumm, the new chair of the City Council Finance Committee is a 25-year teacher and a union activist in his teaching days, Mark Tryger, the new chair of the Council Education Committee was a high school teacher four years ago, and an outspoken critic of the Bloomberg data-madness. Betty Rosa, the Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents was a career teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx.

I’m not going to list “favorites,” don’t want to jinx anyone, it is a monumental task, as I wrote earlier this Jesus-Mohammad-Moses-Buddha-like personage is hard to find.

Maybe the feds will let Barbara become chancellor as part of a work release program?

BTW, if you haven’t discovered it yet you must watch “Rita,” about a “kick-ass” Danish teacher, it is fantastic, click on the link: https://www.buzzfeed.com/matwhitehead/one-less-lonely-hjordis?utm_term=.ism55mqKo#.tjnddzqQZ

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How Do You Choose a New Chancellor for the NYC School System …? Is a Jesus-Moses-Muhammad-Gandhi-like Chancellor Waiting in the Wings?

The New York Yankees decided to have an open procedure in the search for a new manager. The candidates were publicly announced and met the press immediately after the interview. The media debated the candidates and the decision was widely applauded. The New York Mets held their interviews in-house, no announcements of candidates and announced the new manager with fanfare, again, a popular choice.

 At a press conference, de Blasio said he has already begun a national search to replace Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who formally announced her retirement on Thursday. He emphasized that he is not looking for someone to shake things up but rather wants someone who will follow through on the course that he and Fariña set out. He also committed to hiring an educator, an important criteria for the mayor when he chose Fariña that set him apart from the previous administration.

 The mayor said he plans to select a new chancellor in the next few months ….  He gave little information about the search process, saying only that it will be an internal, quiet decision.

 If the plan is to hire “someone who will follow through on the course that [de Blasio] and Fariña set out,” why a nationwide search, select from among the deputy chancellors, Dorita Gibson, Phil Weinberg, or from among the members of the Board of Regents who were highly effective superintendents, Regents Chin, Cashin, Rosa or Young? In the 90’s three chancellor’s, Cortines, Green and Crew, from across the nation stumbled.

Unspecified insiders paint a different picture of the mayor/chancellor relationship, the NY Daily News reports,

… behind the door … insiders have said de Blasio has been growing impatient with Farina’s inability to communicate his education agenda to the public.

“De Blasio thinks the schools are doing great,” said one Education Department official who requested anonymous. “He can’t understand why he gets negative coverage and pushback over things like school safety.”

Farina, in a self-assessment, looking over her four years mused,

“The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system,” Fariña said.

 The speculation was that Carmen would stay a year or two, and de Blasio would select the “big name,” the new leader; Carmen surprised the sages.

Why wasn’t “the message” getting out? If you look at the pieces of data emerging from schools: higher graduation rates, jumps in test scores, Universal Pre-K, 3 for All;  De Blasio can’t understand the negative coverage from the Post, the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, the Manhattan Institute and a host of blog sites.

 Marshall McLuhan is famous for the phrase, “the medium is the message,” and the LcLuhan website explains,

… the message of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. A McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing.

The same can be said for de Blasio himself, in spite of historically low homicide rates, improvements in quality of life, a thriving economy, the negative side, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, transit woes dominate the news.

De Blasio, in person, has an electric personality, charming, engaged, a wonderful public speaker. I was at an annual Christmas season community event a few weeks ago. The hundreds in the diverse crowd were local folks with their kids to see the Christmas lights turned on: Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, Trish James, the Public Advocate and the Mayor spoke, de Blasio charmed the crowd. In September I attended a community Town Hall, de Blasio interacting with a community, hosted by the City Counsel member. For a few hours de Blasio answered questions, knowledgeable, accessible, and seemingly caring about each and every story or complaint.

Yet the press hammers away, at press availability de Blasio is uncomfortable, snarky, why are they asking me about the “bad stuff” and not the “good stuff?”

Charming in person and not able to enunciate a message across the city.

Cuomo, on the other hand, only meets with the public and the press at carefully controlled events with questions limited to the single topic. I can’t remember an open press conference.  Cuomo reads speeches, issues press releases, stands on a stage surrounded by acolytes to announce this or that; the other end of the spectrum from de Blasio.

Aloof in person, effectively sends a message: I am in charge, I am the your leader.

Trump meets the nation through tweets, and campaign rallies, he is at the center, whether you like him or not he is the center of attention, he is the imperial and imperious president.,

We have moved from the era of the presser, from print media to the era of social media, an era of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, podcasts, websites; the New York Times has more online subscribers than hard print purchasers.

The number one “quality” of a new Chancellor should be the ability to communicate, to carry the message.

The substance might be less important than the message.

The current Farina education menu is a la carte. There are dozens, maybe scores, of “new initiatives,” the administration has tossed dollars and “programs” at criticism and perceived “problems.”  On the left hand column the “problem,” in the middle column the programmatic response, on the right side the cost, check off and move on to the next issue.  The old Board of Education was once described as a mass of silly putty, you could stick your finger in and change the shape with ease; however, slowly but surely the lump regained its amorphous shape.

I occasionally call a teacher in a Renewal School to catch up on what’s happening in her school: lots of meetings, lots people floating through, lots of data collection, and lots of confusion.

Me: “Do they ask for feedback, do they ask you for suggestions, do they follow through on teacher ideas?”

Teacher: “Not really, we’re polite, we listen, we try and implement the instructional changes, the new programs seem to be in conflict with other programs, it’s frustrating and depressing.”

I speak with a principal: “A cluster of schools, mine included, was getting significant dollars from a grant, the superintendent asked for ideas, we carefully researched, eventually the program was announced, none of our ideas made the cut, the programs were disconnected, it was chaotic, every program wanted a piece of our kids.”

On the state level the Rosa/Elia team has learned the lesson.

Former Commissioner John King “declared” change after change, call them reform after reform, with most of the Regents rubber stamping, and, defending each and every “reform.” Whether or not the reforms had merit faded as opposition to King increased. King became the message, not the value or lack thereof of the reforms.

Chancellor Rosa and Commissioner Elia have “included” the immediate world. Task forces, work groups, gatherings all over the state, at times a seemingly tedious and overly lengthy process resulting in this initiative or that initiative.  The message: we want to involve you, all of you, we will listen, and you’re “in the tent.”

The move from the Common Core to the Next Generation Standards garnered thousands of online comments, endless meetings across the state; I attended a meeting in Brooklyn with over 100 teachers interacting with city and state staffers. I attended a meeting at the union with a few Regents members and a number of math teachers who served on one of the task forces.

The Next Generation Standards were adopted with minimal opposition. Are they “better” than the Common Core standards? I have no idea, the message was clear: everyone will have their opportunity to participate in the change process.

In New York City the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the central board meetings are poorly attended, the Community Education Councils (CEC), the local school boards, have numerous unfilled slots and, once again, the people on the stage outnumber the people in the audience.

The message is clear, you don’t really count, we’re doing what we think is the right path.

Carmen was the right person at the right time, replacing an administration that thrived on chaos and confrontation. Some of the Bloomberg/Klein initiatives had disastrous consequences (Open Market transfers allowing teachers to hop from school to school setting up a steady drain of teachers away from the lowest achieving schools) to others that made perfect sense (a longer school day, time for professional development and sharply higher wages) and to some that are debatable (school closing and new school creation). Eventually the public came to the conclusion, polling data confirms,  we trust teachers more than the mayor to create education policy.

The Farina policies lack coherence; for example, there is no New York City curriculum. Carmen likes programs devised by Lucy Calkins and Lucy West, and some superintendents force principals to use the programs, others abhor the programs. The answer to why there is no curriculum has been “we’re working on it.”  Increasingly curriculum is seen to be at the core of improved outcomes.

David Steiner, former New York State Chancellor, writes, ,

An education system without an effective instructional core is like a car without a working engine: It can’t fulfill its function. No matter how much energy and money we spend working on systemic issues – school choice, funding, assessments, accountability, and the like – not one of these policies educates children. That is done only through curriculum and teachers: the material we teach and how effectively we teach it.

Why has it taken four years to address the school diversity issue? The controversy around school segregation began with a research paper from The Civil Right Project at UCLA,

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

The Farina administration tarried, the pressure to create a school integration plan in New York came from two members of the City Council and a number of advocacy organizations, Carmen finally created a plan that has been criticized by the advocates and electeds.

To make matters more complex, a recent research paper from the Metro Center at NYU, “Separate But Unequal: Comparing Achievement in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools,” finds only modest differences and makes a range of other policy recommendations.

Analysis of 2015-16 achievement data suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools. Third and eighth grade students attending the most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.

In addition, students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools (68.8 percent versus 66.5 percent)

The report includes recommendations for stimulating diversity, expanding opportunity, and interrupting segregation in New York City schools, including challenging “opportunity monopolies,” such as specialized high schools, that only provide privileges to certain groups of students. The researchers also recommend recruiting and retaining teachers of color and hiring from the beginning culturally competent educators.

Did you know the Department has an Office of Equity and Access?  Once again the Department has spun out initiative after initiative, press release after press release, with considerable backslapping. Will the meetings of the newly appointed School Diversity Group be live streamed? Will there be a website for public comments?

Do principals, teachers, advocates and New Yorkers in general, have an opportunity to participate in the policy creation process?  Sadly, no, the gulf between those who work in schools and those who lead the school system is wide. The gulf between advocates and school district leadership continues to be disturbing; it is often confrontational rather than cooperative and collegial.

The chancellor proudly announces she has visited 400 schools; however, her visits are preceded by schools scrambling to put on the right face, new bulletin boards, tighter discipline, etc. The team spends an hour or so and moves on and the school breathes a sigh of relief.

The union contract contains a consultation requirement,

The community or high school superintendent shall meet and consult once a month during the school year with representatives of the Union on matters of educational policy and development and on other matters of mutual concern.

 In my union representative days my district had a different spin, the superintendent met monthly with all the school union reps in addition to the principals and parent leaders, Prior to the Albany legislative session the superintendent hosted a meeting of all the electeds, the District Leadership Team and all the parents associations to discuss district budgetary needs.

The teacher union reps were part of the leadership process – the message from the district to the teacher leaders – we respect and welcome your views, your participation. We created active and participatory school and district leadership teams, the school teams created bylaws with specific conflict resolution guidelines. The district leadership team, the superintendent, principals and teachers, responded to intra-school conflicts.

The district created a diversity plan; over a thousand Afro-American students from overcrowded schools were bused to underutilized all-white schools at the other end of the district. It only occurred because the entire community was included in every step of the process.

In a prior post I suggested that the new chancellor, a Jesus-Moses-Mohammad-Gandhi-like person, might be difficult to identify;  I’m not a fan of the candidates on the Eva Moskowitz list, New York City has a unique culture; I am a fan of including key stakeholders (unions, etc.) on a search team, and I hope the process does not drag on for months.

The Department has always been a paramilitary organization, the general, aka, chancellor, makes a decision, superintendents and principals salute and the orders trickle down to classroom teachers, the soldiers, who nod politely, close their doors and do what they think is best.  Occasionally a superintendent or a principal, or, an island of schools creates truly collaborative worlds; they are the exception and struggle to survive.

We need a chancellor, a leader, who can communicate, who is respected; would principals, teachers, parents and advocates agree with the reflections of the current chancellor? “The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system.”

When you think of the Department do the words “dignity,” “joy” and “trust” resonate?

 I hope the mayor can find this incredible personage who can change the Department of Education from a reactive organization to a creative organization, from an organization attempting to pacify critics to an organization that truly finds a path to include diverse views, to an organization whose message is “you are part of the process,” whose outcomes lead to better outcomes for students and families.

Rule # 1 of personal and organization change: participation reduces resistance.

Why Have New York City Homicides (1990: 2262) Declined So Precipitously (2016: 335)? Can Small Schools Connecting with Students Be at the Core?

At the height of the crack epidemic (1990) there were 2262 homicides in New York City; in 2016 there were 335 homicides – incredible. (Check out NYC crime data here).

While homicide rates continue at high level in city after city the rates in New York City continue to decline, probably below 300 for 2017.

What are we doing right?

See top 30 city homicide rates here.

Not only are homicide rates high the rates are breaking records in a number of cities.

In spite of the spotlight homicide rates in Chicago continue to spike: The Atlantic takes a deep dive into the persistently high homicide rates.

Criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, electeds have all parsed the reams of data to attempt to provide an answer: why has the homicide rate in New York City continued to decline, to decline precipitously while in other cities the rates have been persistently high or increasing?

Broken Windows” Policing and “Stop and “Frisk”

The eight years of Giuliani and the twelve years of Bloomberg were years of what critics called “harsh” policing. Arresting turnstile jumpers and public intoxicators, “stop and frisk” widely used in communities of color targeting young men of color, policies that both administrations claim reduced homicide rates.

A 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study reports,

Many attribute New York’s crime reduction to specific “get-tough” policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime.

 In Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows (NBER Working Paper No. 9061), co-authors Hope Corman and Naci Mocan find that the “broken windows” approach does not deter as much crime as some advocates argue, but it does have an effect

 Skeptics believe that it was the economic boom of the 1990s – a “carrot” that encourages people to remain on the straight-and-narrow – that brought about the drop in crime rates in New York City and the nation.

 The contribution of such deterrence measures (the “stick”) offers more explanation for the decline in New York City crime than the improvement in the economy, the authors conclude.

 So, “broken windows” had an impact; although not as much as claimed by the proponents.

However, Mayor de Blasio ended “stop and frisk” and arrests for low level misdemeanors have ended, homicides continue to spiral downward, and, at a faster rate.

 The Impact of Legalized Abortion

 A far more controversial theory comes from the “freakonomics” guys called the Donohue-Leavitt Hypothesis  that proffers that the Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, the legal accessibility of abortions, resulted in sharp decreases in a generation of potential victims and perpetrators.  Males from poor dysfunctional households who were not born could not be victims or perps therefore resulting in sharp decreases in serious crime rates. The hypothesis has been vigorously debated.

Gentrification

 Gentrification is defined as “… the renovation of a deteriorating urban neighborhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents.” The process in New York City has been accelerating; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, Williamsburg, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods have seen the steady flow of middle class families into the neighborhoods pushing the poorer residents into existing “ghetto” neighborhoods.  New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force data shows that juvenile perpetrators are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer neighborhoods. The concentration of potential victims and perpetrators into smaller geographic areas make it easier to police neighborhoods.

Some would argue that while gentrification pushes the poor out of neighborhoods and increases racial and economic segregation; a positive byproduct could be the reduction of crime.

Small High Schools

 Disconnected youth is defined as youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. Higher crime/arrest rates, higher controlled substance involvement, high pregnancy rates, a long list of negative metrics, and, cities and states around the nation are struggling to create programs to engage youth.

A detailed report, “One in Seven: Disconnected  Youth in the 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas” parses the data, Boston and Minneapolis have the lowest percentages, Phoenix the highest; however, there is no correlation that I could discern between serious crime and disconnected youth by city. New York City is 17th out of the 25 Metro areas; however, much lower homicide rates.

I could not find crime rates among disconnected youth by city. We do know that victims and perpetrators are more likely not to be in school and not working.

New York City has done a commendable job of keeping school-age kids engaged in the school system.

I proffer that keeping 16 to 21 year olds engaged in school plays a role in reducing homicide rates

Beginning in the late eighties, increasing in the nineties and sharply accelerating under Bloomberg the Board and successor Department of Education closed large high schools and replaced them with small high schools. There are currently about 400 small high schools and programs by and large located in the former large high school buildings. The school registers are about 400 students. An MDRP study finds,

… small schools tended to have common traits, including a rigorous curriculum, often built around themes like conservation and law, and highly personalized relationships between students and teachers.

The schools have also formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to offer hands-on learning experiences.

The predecessor large high schools commonly had registers of over 2000 kids, and, sadly, many had high absentee rates, large class sizes and the absence of services.

I served as the teacher union representative on numerous Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams; too many schools has passed the tipping point; they had become dropout mills with large percentages of disengaged students characterized by long term absentees, cutting classes, high failure rates in classes and on Regents exams

After the 1975 fiscal crisis the school system was an afterthought, the Koch administration had little interest in schools, the decentralized school system, with exceptions, was dominated by venal politicians and patronage. Schools were starved for resources and the most disadvantaged schools suffered.

The Bloomberg administration, for his first two terms, plowed dollars into schools, (2003-2011) sharp increases in teacher salaries and a concentration on creating small schools.

While you can argue that increasing graduations rates were due to credit recovery and other management tools, the more “personalized relationships between students and teachers” cannot be disputed.  The small high schools “connected” with students.

When school leaders and teachers know the name of every kid, engage with the kids on a daily basis, kids feel part of a community.

Kids who were not surviving in small high schools, students who were “overage age and under-credited” have another chance – transfer high schools. There are fifty transfer high schools scattered around the city. A hearing in Brooklyn held by the New York State Department of Education asking for public comment around the ESSA plan and the mandated 67% graduation rate, endangering transfer high schools,  student after student, parent after parent testified how the transfer high school had saved their lives.

Only about half of the students in transfer high school graduate, a cohort, who did not succeed in small high schools, who do not succeed in a transfer school have another chance, the Pathways to Graduation program, targeting students from 17 – 21 years of age, Pathways prepares students for the high school equivalency examination, formerly the GED, now the TASC exam – once again, a program built on personalized relationships between students and teachers.

I proffer that students in the New York City school system are less likely to be disconnected. Students who struggle with academics, students from single parent or dysfunctional households, students living in gang-infested neighborhoods are “connected” with their school staffs.

The culture of these programs connects students to staffs, builds communities, acts as an alternative to the streets, and, in my opinion, plays a role in reducing homicide rates.

Smaller schools, smaller class size, schools with flexible programming, student advisory classes addressing social and emotional needs, students not left to be won over by the streets, meaning fewer disconnected youth, means fewer kids likely to be victims or perpetrators.

Smarter policing not harsher policing, more job opportunities, higher wages, all play roles;  the impact of schools have been ignored in parsing the reasons for declining homicide rates.

I allowed kids to pick their own seats in my high school classroom. On day one a student picked the seat right in front of my desk. He was small for his age, too much acne, and the other kids used unkind language, today we’d call bullying.

One day he apologized before the class began.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t do my homework, I was practicing with my band.”

Offhandedly, I replied, “Is the band any good?”

The student, hesitantly, replied, “Yes.”

Me: “Do you have a cassette?”

The kid beamed, “Sure”

I gave the cassette to my son who has a friend who books acts, he said they weren’t bad, they should book performances at open mike venues and try and build up a following. I passed the info along to the kid.

Years later I was walking down a street and someone shouted, “Mr. G”

It was the same student.

Me: “Did you’re band make it …?”

Kid: Smiling, “We weren’t good enough, I was the sound guy, and I became a sound technician, make good money, thanks for the advice.”

We do our job and impact lives; usually we never know the impact we have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Next New York City School Chancellor Will Be ………

I understand that in an office across the city a “chancellor retirement date poll” has been established. I hope someone selects a date after November, 2021; in spite of the speculation, Farina may not be seeking warmer winter climes

Of course the rumors have been rampant for years, the first rumor: she’s only staying until a “permanent” chancellor is selected, that was almost four years ago.

New York City is a mayoral control city, the 2002 law created a central board, called the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), with a majority appointed by the mayor; technically the school board appoints the chancellor, in the “real” world the choice is solely that of the mayor. There is no required consultation, no “advice and consent” by the City Council. Last time round the mayor and his top advisors held interviews for chancellor in off-the-grid locations; wholly within the law.

On Tuesday, November 7th Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller Stringer and Public Advocate James will be reelected with a historically low voter turnout. The only election of interest, for leader of the City Council, only has fifty-one voters – the members of the  council. The council leader – the speaker – is the second most powerful elected office in the city.

The only requirement to be chancellor is state certification as a superintendent – and the Board of Regents has the authority to waive the requirement. Under Mayor Bloomberg, all three chancellors, Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott, required waivers. It is highly unlikely that the current Board of Regents would grant a waiver.

If the current chancellor retires one of names that the mayor might consider, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, is not qualified under the law and would require a waiver.

Let’s speculate:

An easy choice: Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson.

Gibson, a Board/Department of Education lifer has worked her way up through the system. It would be a seamless transition, not controversial, and would result in the continuation of the current policies.

A higher profile choice is Rudy Crew, a former chancellor and current leader of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. The Department of Education, the P-12 school system has never been linked to CUNY, the community and four-year colleges. Crew might make sense if the mayor envisions a seamless P-16 school system.

Three senior members of the Board of Regents have lengthy and laudatory experience in the New York City school system as well as a firm understanding of the links between the city and the state. Regents Chancellor Rosa has been a breathe of fresh air, outspoken, highly collaborative, and has created a revitalized Board. Regent Cashin, a highly successful superintendent in the poorest section of the city, beloved by parents, a tireless worker with the ability to craft collaborative solutions including diverse interests, Regent Young, also a former superintendent has led the New York State My Brothers Keeper initiative, the first in the nation, aimed at improving outcomes for young men of color.

An academic and more recent deputy chancellor, Shael Suransky is currently the President of Bank Street College,

And, we can’t forget that former commissioner and former US secretary of education John King is hanging out at a Washington think tank, although I doubt it would be a politically viable choice.

How will de Blasio make the decision? What are the considerations?

On the day after the election de Blasio becomes a lame duck mayor, term limited, and is looking past city hall. The next four years will not be easy; Washington is making drastic cuts in the budget and the only question is how drastic. The city and the state will take deep hits; Medicare, and a host of other health care related cuts, education cuts and cuts across the entire budget. And this is only the first of the Trump budgets. The last four years the city’s budget outlook has been rosy, high rise, market rate buildings mean high income tax payers, tourism at all time highs, crime rates at all time lows, and a flow of “first round draft choice” immigrants. The stock market continues to spiral upwards to incredible heights.

A stock market sell off, continued Trump budget cuts, a jittery economy could bring a downturn in city revenues with cuts to city services. The City Council is far to the left with a hunger for increased city services, restrictions on market rate construction and a host of projects the mayor, up until now, has turned aside.

What does the mayor want to see as his legacy and his future? Can the city continue to prosper under Trump policies?

As we move closer to the 2018 midterms the democrats will work to take back one or both houses of Congress, and, the cavalry charge for the democratic presidential candidates will emerge, with a dozen or more democrats and who knows what will happen on the republican side.

Does de Blasio see himself as the leader of the national democratic progressive movement? Beyond his successes in New York City?

de Blasio can urge Farina to remain, if unsuccessful select a “safe” chancellor, akin to Farina, or, a higher profile innovator, whatever that means?

In this turbulent world of a “tweet” presidency, the future is, to be kind, uncertain.

Maybe de Blasio has a “baton in his knapsack,” and sees himself being promoted to a much higher leadership position with a headquarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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.

“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.