Tag Archives: Diane Ravitch

Does deBlasio Need to Rekindle the Reading Wars? Lucy Calkins Re-Ignites the “Whole Language” versus “Phonics” Battles.

As the seemingly endless mayoral campaign plodded from panel to panel it became increasingly clear that candidate de Blasio, on education issues, was the furthermost to the left: he vigorously opposed co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings, he was cool to the idea of charter schools generally, he was openly critical of Eva Moskowitz, while the other candidates didn’t disagree, they were just more “thoughtful” and less didactic.

Four months into his term de Blasio has been battered: his plan for a small tax on earners of over $500,000 a year shot down by the governor and a five million dollar media blitz and $800,000 in contributions to Cuomo resulted in legislation to force co-locations of charter schools – a resounding defeat for the new guy on the block, a defeat engineered by his “friend” in the governor’s Albany mansion.

For the mayor the single issue is Universal Pre-Kindergarten, an immense program with many pitfalls to be averted. Can the department find adequate classroom space? Can the department match seats to needs? Can the department find and train appropriately certified teachers? Can the department stock the classrooms with age-appropriate materials? Can the department and the city link a wide range of social and health services to the kids? A Herculean task and a task that must shine to restore the glitter to the mayor’s image.

Other major initiatives are on hold: the reorganization of the network-based management system, the A-F School Progress Reports, the Choice versus Neighborhood Schools concept, the single goal is to assure that Universal Pre-Kindergarten will be a smashing success.

And then Chancellor Farina announced Lucy was back.

For decades the battle over the teaching of reading, aka, The Reading Wars, have pitted supporters of “whole language” against the supporters of “phonics,” Research Professor Peter Gray in “Freedom to Learn” describes the differing positions,

In teaching reading, the progressive [whole language] educator might focus on ways to help beginners recognize and thereby read whole words from the outset and allow them to figure out or guess at other words from the context (such as from pictures and the meaning of adjacent words), so they are reading for meaning right from the beginning. In contrast, the traditionalist might start with lessons on letter recognition and the relation of letters to sounds (phonics) before moving on to whole words and sentences. The process of reading requires the decoding of letters into sounds, and the traditionalist teaches this process explicitly before becoming concerned with meaning.

Today, the majority (though not all) of the experts who have examined the data have declared that the wars are over—phonics has won. The data seem clear. Overall, children who are taught phonics from the beginning become better readers, sooner, than those who are taught by whole-word or whole-language methods. The learning is still slow and tedious, but not as slow and tedious for phonics learners as for those taught by other methods.

Kathleen Porter-McGee, a widely respected scholar and frequent writer about the teaching of reading also pans the Calkins’ methodology,

Not only is this approach [Lucy Catkins’ Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop] widely used by U.S. educators (for ages it was required by the New York City Department of Education and is still widely used today in Gotham schools), but it is perhaps the most egregious example of a content-free, text-neutral, skills-focused version of reading instruction. Students in such classrooms don’t even have the benefit of reading shared or thoughtfully sequenced texts, let alone a thoughtful, coherent knowledge base.

Joel Klein, an attorney, hired Diana Lamm as his deputy under the initial department reorganization, with ten mega-regional superintendents, Lamm imposed the whole language teaching strategy, after Lamm left Klein promoted Carmen Farina, also a devotee of whole language instruction. Over the years Lucy Calkins trained over 10,000 New York Teachers and her Writing Project received millions of dollars in contracts.

The Reading Wars raged with Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute and Diane Ravitch pitted against Calkins and Farina. A lengthy piece in New York Magazine recounts the battle,

Sol Stern of the conservative Manhattan Institute and the education historian Diane Ravitch berated Balanced Literacy’s whole-language roots. “Many of the programs and methods now being crammed down the teachers’ throats have no record of success,” wrote Stern, “and are particularly ill suited for disadvantaged minority children. In fact, a cabal of progressive educators chose them for ideological reasons, in total disregard of what the scientific evidence says about the most effective teaching methods—particularly in the critically important area of early reading.”

By the spring of 2004, Diana Lam was gone, but Joel Klein went out of his way to defend Balanced Literacy. He promoted Carmen Fariña, a respected Brooklyn superintendent who had used Balanced Literacy as a teacher and principal. Fariña proudly took up the cause.

After Farina left in one of the many leadership shifts Eric Nadelstern took the education helm and the system moved to an affinity network model. Schools could choose their network; “Calkins” schools could cluster in a network, devotees of phonics or other approaches in other networks. With adoption of the Common Core the department recommended methodologies and Calkins was not selected.

With the selection of Farina as chancellor could the resurrection of Calkins be far behind?

Patrick Wall, in Chalkbeat recounts Lucy’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes,

… in January, Calkins’ longtime friend Carmen Fariña, who has called Calkins her mentor, was appointed head of the city school system. The two met privately at the Department of Education headquarters after Fariña became schools chancellor.

Around that time, Calkins wrote to Fariña urging her to resist the curriculum guidelines written by Coleman and his team, Calkins said in her speech.

“Please, Carmen,” Calkins said she appealed to Fariña, “Protect the Common Core from the documents surrounding it, that are people’s interpretations of it.”

Now, Fariña has the power to reimagine the way educators across the city teach reading and writing in the age of the Common Core. Already, the chancellor has promised a top-to-bottom review of the city’s recommended curriculums. And to lead a citywide Common Core literacy training next month, her administration brought in Calkins’ group.

For her part, Calkins seems confident that her group will play a larger role under Chancellor Fariña in helping schools meet the new standards.

“Yes, the city’s moving in our direction,” Calkins said during an interview in February. “Obviously.”

The Reading War has roots in the 1950’s (“Why Johnnie Can’t Read”) and the skirmishes have continued ever since. In spite the reams of critical research whole language instruction continues to stake out a loyal and dedicated following, and an equally vociferous opposition.

As de Blasio struggles to regain his positive public image, as the mayor pumps up support for Universal Pre- Kindergarten, as the laser-like focus of the administration on making sure that pre-kindergarten is a glowing success, does de Blasio need to fan the embers of the Reading Wars?

Fanned embers end up in conflagrations, to raging forest fires, a disaster for an administration looking to find their mojo.

The mayor needs victories, not scrums over how to teach reading.

Senator Flanagan versus President Obama: Will New York State Challenge Immediate High-Stake Testing for All?

In the corridors of Albany a Republican State Senator from Long Island, John Flanagan, is challenging President Obama – and the challenge has nothing to do with party politics. An increasingly intrusive federal government has pushed aside the 10th Amendment and is setting national policy for education at the local level.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment is referred to as the “reserve clause,” the catch-all amendment that “reserves” powers not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited to the states. Education is a classic example of a reserved power, states, traditionally, established school governance systems, set course and graduation requirements, funding formula, criteria for teacher licensure, education was a domain of the states.

Diane Ravitch in a blog post writes, “Who owns American public education? Until a decade ago, we might have answered: the public. Or the states. Or the local school boards. Now, the likely answer is: the U.S. Department of Education.”

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), for the first time, introduced a role for the federal government in education. Title I of ESEA provided dollars to states based upon a poverty formula in exchange for directing dollars to specific schools. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the reauthorization of ESEA, in 2002, dramatically changed the role of the feds, school districts that received federal funds, almost all school districts, were required to test all students in English/Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and students in high schools in English, Mathematics and Science and were required to take remedial action for “failing” schools, actions that included replacing staffs and/or principals, school closures and conversion to charter schools.

In 2011 the National Governors Association, using Gates funding, created “standards” in all grades; 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, now referred to as Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The plan envisioned two consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balance, would create tests to measure student competency based on the CCSS in grades 3-11, tests that were national in scope, all the states in each consortium would take the same tests. States would no longer control the content and structure of federally required tests.

The Race to the Top (RttT) dangled billions of federal dollars to states in exchange for significant commitments – adopting the Common Core standards and student testing based on the CCSS, student test score-based (VAM) teacher evaluations and a data warehouse to store student information.

The powers guaranteed by the 10th Amendment have been significantly eroded by the federal government. The Supreme Court has vacillated on the question of the powers of the federal government and education conservatives, Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli are uncomfortable with the intrusive role of the feds,

The federal government has pushed far too deeply into the routines and operations of the nation’s public schools, now regulating everything from teacher credentials to the selection of reading programs.

New York State has enthusiastically adopted the federal agenda – a recipient of 700 million in RttT funds, and the full federal agenda typified by the rapid adoption of the CCSS and concomitant testing.

In August, 2013 the first set of CCSS state test scores were released – 2/3 of the students in the state failed the tests and Afro-American, Hispanic, English language learners and Special Education students had appallingly low scores.

• 31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• 5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

As parent anger grew the commissioner pushed back and defended the full adoption of CCSS and the full implementation of CCSS testing. At meeting after meeting, forum after forum the public pushed and the commissioner defended.

On January 7th the leader of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who rarely comments on any pending issue announced,

“I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core,” Silver said. “The problem with it is … No. 1, it was suddenly put upon teachers and students and administrators and schools. The support for it was not forthcoming as quickly as the rigors of Common Core, and the training wasn’t there for a lot of the teachers that are charged with using it as the basis for their education.”

Throughout the fall Senator Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee held hearing around the state and introduced a number of bills to limit and safeguard the data warehouse, and, announced he was considering the introduction of legislation to slow down the implementation of the CCSS testing.

On January 24th the NYS Senate Education Committee engaged with Commissioner King for almost two hours. Senator after senator asked the commissioner to press the “delay” or the “pause” button and the commissioner, politely and firmly explained that while the state education department could have done things differently, and agreed the implementation was uneven and parent engagement was lacking the feds required annual testing and the only tests were the CCSS tests.

Watch from minute 1:42 until the end (thirteen minutes) for comments from Senator Flanagan and the Commissioner’s reply (See U-Tube here). Well worth watching – Senator Flanagan firmly asked for a plan and the commissioner just as firmly evaded.

A Regents Task Force is scheduled to report at the February 10th Regents meeting – the senator announced he was expecting a “tangible” plan to respond to the criticisms from across the state.

Although thoroughly professional Senator Flanagan made it clear the Senate Education Committee would take actions if they were not satisfied with the report of the Regents Task Force, and the unspoken threat is a bill requiring a delay.

The commissioner has consistently averred that a delay in implementation was out of the question – he argues federal law requires annual testing. Senator Flanagan made it clear – this is New York State – we are the leader – an implicit argument that the feds don’t want to pick a fight with the Empire State.

The actions of the Senate Education Committee may be the beginning of challenges around the nation. Can the federal government require education policies that parents and their legislators think are inappropriate? Will the Regents and the commissioner directly challenge Senator Flanagan’s “advice”? Usually, both sides come to an “understanding” that pushes aside any confrontation; however, the tide of anger on the part of parents around the state requires “tangible” action – anything short of a delay will be rejected by parents.

Senator Flanagan and his colleagues are demanding that the Common Core be de-linked from immediate high-stakes testing for all.

I do not think legislators will risk losing their offices over the issue of Common Core testing; rather challenge the federal law than risk the ire of voters at the polls.

Our founding fathers (and mothers, let’s not forget Abigail Adams and Sally Hemmings) were both creative and deep thinkers. The advice of Thomas Jefferson is especially prescient,

Should [reformers] attempt more than the established habits of the people are ripe for, they may lose all and retard indefinitely the ultimate object of their aim.” –Thomas Jefferson to Mme de Tesse,

I think it would be better to wind up [the settlement of a new constitution] as quickly as possible, to consider it as a mere experiment to be amended hereafter when time and trial shall show where it is imperfect.” –Thomas Jefferson to Comte de Moustier

Black Smoke, White Smoke: Waiting for Mayor-elect de Blasio to Select the New Chancellor.

Thousands of teachers and parents huddle outside of the de Blasio residence each evening staring at the chimney – will the smoke be white or black? Will a chancellor be selected?

Not really – although it seems that way.

For fifteen years New York City has not had an educator as a chancellor.

Harold Levy was an attorney – within days of his selection he raced out to a district in Brooklyn to congratulate a superintendent, the state test scores were announced and the scores soared, of course, no one bothered to tell Levy that the five lowest performing schools were moved to the Chancellor’s District – addition by subtraction.

When Joel Klein was selected by Mayor Bloomberg the response was, “Who?”

At a recent retrospective interview with David Steiner Klein lauded himself. Fair Student Funding and Open Market transfers achieved the opposite of the intent – rather than driving experienced teachers to high needs schools it facilitated higher achieving teachers to move to higher achieving schools.

In the last decade more than half of middle school teachers have left within their first three years.
(Read “Why They Leave” Report here)

Klein alienated teachers and supervisors, totally disempowered parents and seems have seen disruption as a goal.

Unfortunately, to quote Woody Guthrie, “From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,” we can’t find a urban superintendent who is not a clone of the Duncan-Broad playbook: school closings, Common Core, testing, testing, more testing, test score-driven accountability, anti-tenure, merit pay, etc.

de Blasio’s campaign was the antithesis of the big city superintendents.

In city after city the reform mayor and the reform superintendent tried to drive the flavor of the month down the throats of parents and teachers.

The editorial writers look for answers: should we emulate Finland (with the population of Brooklyn), or, South Korea, or Poland? Today’s editorial in the New York Times looks around the world for “solutions” to mediocre PISA scores, and Diane Ravitch chides the editorial writers,

The Times blames teachers for the U.S. scores on PISA. And once again, the Times assumes that the scores of 15-year-olds on a standardized test predict the future of our economy, for which there is no evidence at all.

Where does de Blasio find this Moses-Muhammad-Christ-like figure?

David Tyack and Larry Cuban in Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995) warn,

Why were the start from scratch innovations proposed by outsiders mostly short-lived? Innovators outside the schools who wanted to reinvent education were often skilled in publicity and the politics of promising and claimed to use the latest models of rational planning but they rarely factored into their plans a sophisticated understanding of the school as an institution or insight into the culture of teachers. … Outsiders who tried to reinvent schooling rarely understood the everyday lives of teachers, their practices, beliefs and sources of frustration and satisfaction.

Mayor-elect de Blasio is entering the mayoralty with wonderful approval numbers,

The poll shows that 73 percent of city residents, across all demographics, are optimistic about the next four years, and 65 percent of New Yorkers say they think the new mayor will make substantial changes in the way the city operates.

de Blasio needs a chancellor with equivalent popularity ratings among parents and teachers. A school system with large percentages of teachers leaving, a school system populated by teachers who feel unappreciated, a school district leader who appears aloof, or worse, who appears to be an enemy, will never gain the respect of teachers and supervisors.

de Blasio needs a chancellor who both respects parents and is respected by parents; not only the middle class activists of Brownstone Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, de Blasio needs a chancellor who can relate to the parents who have been disrespected. Parents in the poorest neighborhoods who worry about putting food on the table and paying the rent.

de Blasio needs a chancellor who can walk the hard scrabble streets of the South Bronx, of Rockaway, of East New York, who can invigorate, who can give hope to those who have had little hope.

We need a chancellor who understands that teachers buy coats for the kids huddling in thin jackets, who too frequently are the only consistent parents in the lives of kids. A chancellor who has visited homeless shelters, a chancellor who parents and teachers feel is in their corner.

It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had a chancellor we can be proud of.

What is the Role of a Board of Education in a Mayoral Control City? Can de Blasio and an Independent Board Co-Exist?

If we live in a mayoral control city, what is the role of the board of education (Panel for Educational Excellence)?

In the months and months of the mayoral campaign, candidate, now Mayor-elect de Blasio laid out a comprehensive list of “likes,” full day pre-K and an extended day in high poverty middle schools paid for by higher taxes on the rich. smaller class size, more art, music and physical education, more use of portfolio assessment and selecting principals from among experienced teachers.

On the “dislike” side: closing schools, letter grades for schools, co-location of charter schools in public schools and high stakes testing.

For the last decade the mayor has run the department of education – the board of education, in New York City called the Panel for Educational Excellence. Early on when two board members voted against a mayoral policy they were immediately replaced.

In effect, we had no functioning board of education.

School boards across the nation are elected in local elections – the boards hire superintendents, set policy including curriculum, negotiate teacher contracts, set school tax rates usually based on assessed value of property. School boards have their origin in the eighteenth century.

Louis Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, in the Wall Street Journal, sees school boards as retrograde,

I believe the problem lies with the structure and corporate governance of our public schools. We have over 15,000 school districts in America; each of them, in its own way, is involved in standards, curriculum, teacher selection, classroom rules and so on. This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change. While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.

Diane Ravitch, in Forbes, disagrees with Gerstner,

School boards play an important role as defenders of the public interest in education. They are part of the democratic process of decision-making. School boards might slow down decision making, but that is part of their job. They offer a forum where the public may be heard, where problems may be raised, where executive decisions may be challenged. At hearings, school officials must explain and defend their decisions and budget proposals. Listening to the public about how its children will be educated and how its money will be spent does slow down the decision-making process

For decades New York City has had appointed school boards, from 1970 until 2002 the board was appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor. While the board was the de jure leader of education in the city the de facto leader was the mayor. Mayors claimed credit for successes and blamed the board for failures, and, if necessary were always able to garner enough votes to fire and hire new chancellors. Esmerelda Simmons, a Dinkins appointee to the board paints a dreary picture of a board spending its time carrying out political contracts for their patrons.

The 2002 New York City Mayoral law grants powers to the 13-member board, eight of whom are selected by the mayor, The law lays out the “Powers and duties of the city board,”

2590-g. Powers and duties of the city board. The city board shall
advise the chancellor on matters of policy affecting the welfare of the
city school district and its pupils. The board shall exercise no
executive power and perform no executive or administrative functions.
(a) approve standards, policies, and objectives proposed by the
chancellor directly related to educational achievement and student
performance;
(b) consider and approve any other standards, policies, and objectives
as specifically authorized or required by state or federal law or
regulation;
(c) approve all regulations proposed by the chancellor or the city
board and any amendments made thereto;

The powers of the board are vague, and, up till now the board has exercised no powers, they simply rubber stamped the decisions of the mayor/chancellor.

Will the new board, the board appointed by de Blasio have the authority to reject decisions of the chancellor? How independent will the eight de Blasio appointed members be?

We do not have models.

Mayoral control has meant that education policy is set in City Hall.

How do you blend a mayoral control system with a policy board who oversees the actions of the chancellor?

If de Blasio appoints a board made up of well-respected New Yorkers will he abide by their decisions if they are not in line with his campaign promises?

The Mayoral-elect has a challenging task.

Finding Common Ground: The Complex Task of Building Coalitions and Understanding the Difference Between Friends and Enemies

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Benjamin Franklin

Up early and on my bike for my morning ride along the East River. The sun glints off the waves stirred by a brisk wind, the Asian men fishing, the joggers plodding away, a soccer practice in progress, the Parks Department folk planting and fertilizing, a crisp November morning.

Bike helmet in hand I walk into my polling place – no lines – a steady flow of voters. I squint at the tiny print and bubble in my votes for candidates and constitutional elections; lots of neighbors wearing de Blasio pins. Yes!!

On Sunday, along with hundreds of other union members I celebrated Teacher Union Day, an annual event, always the Sunday before Election Day. The union recognizes its own: chapter leaders, political activists, fifty-year union membership and teams of principals and chapter leaders who collaborate effectively at the school level. Unexpectedly, candidate Bill de Blasio dropped in and gave a short rousing speech, hugged Michael Mulgrew and introduced his wife, a nice touch.

Randi Weingarten, unobtrusively sitting at a table, had a prescient column in the New York Times, “Will the States Fail the Common Core,”

Randi writes,

Instruction in many wealthier public and private schools is routinely aligned to such [Common Core] skills, often through project-based and hands-on learning. But between budget cuts and top-down accountability laws like No Child Left Behind—whose testing fixation promotes test-prep and rote memorization—poor kids have gotten less access to the well-rounded, rigorous education they deserve. Without standards aligned to what kids need to succeed in college, career and life, and ample supports to help them get there, that chasm will grow even wider.

And explains her support for the Common Core,

Common Core standards [are] not a silver bullet, and they’re not the only thing kids need for a great public education. But they have the potential to disrupt the cycle of increasing poverty and economic and social stratification by making essential skills and knowledge available to all children, not just some.

And goes on to slam the leadership at the State level,

But even good ideas can be torpedoed by bad execution. In New York, officials rushed to impose tests and consequences way before students were ready. And Louisiana, New Mexico and other states are skimping on or simply bungling implementation. If officials are trying to make these standards unattainable, they’re doing a great job. No wonder students, their parents and teachers are angry, anxious and demoralized.

Weingarten points to a number of accountability tools aside from standardized tests,

Speaking of testing, it is not anti-accountability to support measures of student learning other than standardized tests. That’s the essence of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, 39 diverse and highly successful public high schools that have received waivers from state standardized exams and so can emphasize higher-order skills, such as crafting and defending a college thesis paper.

Ironically at the same time that the AFT President is slamming states for their poor implementation of Common Core standards Randi agreed to respond to Mercedes Schneider, a snarky blogger in Louisiana. Diane Ravitch occasionally reposts Schneider’s posts, they are smart and passionate.

Strangely Schneider chooses to harshly criticize Randi for her alleged lack of full time teaching experience and her advocacy for the Common Core, and, Randi responds in detail.

About thirty or so commenters posted responses, Leo Casey, the leader of the Shanker Institute and former UFT High School Vice President overreacted defending Randi, the anti-Common Core folk joined in, the defenders of Randi were marginalized by Mercedes, who tells us she will not be posting comments from supporters/defenders of Weingarten.

Read Mercedes letter and Randi’s response plus the comments here

It distresses me that teacher bloggers would choose to attack Randi rather than find common ground to change the direction of education policy on the national scene. I do not see the Common Core as the “enemy;” as a high school teacher I see the Social Studies and English standards as aspirational targets, not that different than the last list of standards. The problem is the implementation, wholly based on testing and data-collection, is absurd. If the Common Core was decoupled from testing I do not believe we would be facing this enormous backlash.

The anti-Common Core coalition from the far right see the Common Core as part of the Obama plot to force gay marriage on our children, take away our guns, make May Day a national holiday and on the left seizing classroom decisions from the hands of classroom teachers.

Hey, it’s a democracy and what makes America wonderful, believe what you want, and blog about it if you choose.

Changing policies on any political level is about building coalitions of the like-minded. To me, the most comfortable coalition is teachers and their organizations and parents. Personally I could not ally myself with folks opposed to almost everything I treasure.

As a union representative I learned that I had to work with principals and superintendents, we could collaborate on some issues and “agree to disagree” on others. I worked with my superintendent on involving parents and teachers in school-budgeting and at the same time pursued grievances challenging the mandating the format of lesson plans.

Mercedes’ decision to refuse to post responses from commenters who disagree with her flies in the face of the open dialogue that the web enables. I welcome comments from the entire spectrum, I hope that readers can engage; I hope that my efforts will create a dialogue, perhaps I will influence, and perhaps I will be influenced.

Today, in New York City, we will be electing a mayor who seems to support much of the union educational agenda. Across the state parents, teachers and legislators are beginning to push back against the state over testing and the selling of personnel student data.

Organizations from around the city have spent months, initially supporting different candidates, now on the same side. Across the state Republicans and Democrats are coming together.

I would hope that the stalwart group of education bloggers can identify areas of agreement and use their substantial influence across the net to push back on the forces of evil.

Mercedes, Randi is not an enemy, and, unfortunately Michelle Rhee must be chuckling and privately hoping you continue tossing stones.

Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten are friends, they don’t agree on everything, they undoubtedly disagree on strategies and tactics, yet, at the last AFT Convention Diane was on the stage giving a powerful speech.

Let’s use Diane and Randi’s relationship as a model.

Whispering in de Blasio’s Ear: Running a City Versus Winning an Election: Who is Advising the Mayor Presumptive?

The day after Bill Thompson conceded the folks who ran de Blasio’s campaign packed up their laptops and moved on to the next race. They earned their fees.

600,000 Democratic voters selected a mayor for eight million New Yorkers, the de Blasio team knew how to push the right buttons. The TV commercial featuring his son’s Afro, the constant drumbeat on “stop-and-frisk,” the “tale of two cities” scenario carried the day for the 270,000 voters, the 40.3% who “elected” Bill de Blasio.

With a forty point bulge in the polls Bill de Blasio will be swept to victory on November 5th – his opponent’s chance of winning is about the same as the Mets winning the World Series and the Jets winning the Super Bowl.

The team that won the election is not the team who will run the city and the mayor presumptive is faced with a pre-election dilemma. How does he go about assembling a team that can satisfy his campaign promises? How does he address the long line at the Gracie Mansion door wanting to be paid back for their support?

Bill has to be careful; friends he trusts may not be giving him the professional advice he needs.

In the Carter administration I was having lunch with a “mover and shaker,” a partner in an important law firm that had guided national policy on a wide range of issues – he was bemoaning the selection of Carter’s fellow Georgians as his inner circle.

“This Carter guy told me, ‘You think only the Northeastern elite can run the country, only the Harvard/Yale crowd?’ to be perfectly honest, yes, we are the only ones.” BTW, the nine members of the Supreme Court come from, yes; you guessed it, only Harvard and Yale.

Carter felt “comfortable” with his good old boy pals, and he turned out to be a one- term president.

The two most important appointments to de Blasio’s administration, appointments that will frame his administration will be a new police commissioner and a new chancellor for the school system.

The speculation about the police commissioner was featured in the NY Times,

“For a change-oriented mayor, there’s a benefit to bringing in somebody from the outside,” said Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has discussed policing policy with Mr. de Blasio. “The next police commissioner faces two equally compelling imperatives: first to continue to bring crime down, and second to help the city navigate its way out of the current conundrum about the stop-and-frisk tactics.”

There appear to be a number of highly regarded candidates ranging from Bill Bratton to others both in and out of the current police hierarchy.

On the school front the choice is far more complex, there is no obvious candidate; there are many suitors.

Rumor has it that a former superintendent, Carmen Farina is the “whisperer” in the presumptive mayor’s ear.

A mistake.

Farina had a long career: principal to superintendent to regional superintendent to deputy chancellor, she left under a cloud. (Read details here)

Sources tell parent advocates’ reporters that Ms. Farina placed the daughter of former Brooklyn Technological High School Principal Lee McCaskill in PS 29, a violation of NYC BOE policies (McCaskill lived in New Jersey). Special Investigators were angry with Mr. Klein for permitting Mrs. Farina to retire before she was convicted. Farina, as well as Chancellor Joel Klein, have no contracts with the NYC DOE, and there’s the rub: How Do they get away with this?

While it may be comfortable to sit down with someone you know critical decisions must be made with the advice of the “wise men,” the city fathers (and daughters) who understand both the complexities, the skills required to govern as well as the politics.

De Blasio should listen to Randi Weingarten, Bill Thompson, Dick Parsons, Diane Ravitch, Mathew Goldstein, David Steiner … the best minds in the city.

His high profile campaign pledge, full day pre-kindergarten appears “dead-on-arrival” in Albany. In an election year, all of Albany is up for re-election, the Republicans on the Senate side and the Governor are openly cool to any increase in taxes to fund anything; by the 4th week in March the budget will be done – does de Blasio “fight the good fight,” and lose – or is there a way to “save face?”

Police commissioners and chancellors must support the policies of the mayor; earn the support of the public and the employees they lead.

The mayor needs a chancellor who can navigate Scylla and Charybdis, who can steer around the whirlpools and eddies and not be tempted by the bewitching song of the sirens. The chancellor, learning from Odysseus may have to bind himself tightly to the mast, his men blocking their ears with wax to avoid the alluring seductive melodies that would bring him, and the administration to doom.

Enough Greek mythology, although we can learn a great deal from the Greeks; listening to the guy next to you on the bar stool will empty your wallet and chase away your girlfriend.

Finding sages who have “been there and done that,” who have a vested interest in your success, crafting polices that are morally, ethically and politically attainable is the path a mayor must follow.

Who Will de Blasio Appoint to the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the School Board?

The original concept of “mayoral control” did not abolish school boards; the governance structure was envisioned as the mayor and the borough presidents appointing a school board that would set policy for the school district. New York City has always had appointed school boards. Prior to 1970 school boards were appointed from a list approved by a screening panel. After 1970 the school board consisted of members appointed by the borough presidents (one each) and the mayor (two members).

Mayors, if they choose, could always round up sufficient votes if the issue was important enough. Rudy Giuliani was masterful; he used the school board to fire and hire chancellors of his choice, claimed credit for successes and flailed the school board to deflect criticisms.

Mayor Bloomberg chose to directly control education, initially he basked in the apparent successes of Joel Klein policies, and, as the public began to reject his policies he squirmed as his approval rating plummeted.

Sol Stern, in the City Journal points to a recent poll,

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. Sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, … 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.

From a political perspective Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy is deeply tarnished as he leaves office – education moved from his crowning jewel to dross.

Bill de Blasio, the presumptive mayor, has the opportunity to move back to the goal of the 2002 mayoral reform law – to appoint well-respected citizens to set educational policy within the broad goals of a de Blasio administration.

The current law establishes a thirteen member board – eight appointed by the mayor and one by each borough president. The current mayoral appointees are completely anonymous and come and go. In the single instance that mayoral appointees voted against a policy the mayor replaced the members.

The PEP meetings are not open discussions of policies, they are a succession of 3-minute speeches from the public opposing whatever policy is on the agenda ending in a vote in which all eight of the mayoral appointees affirm the issue. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan Borough President appointee has been the only board member who has consistently challenged Bloomberg agenda items.

Sadly, while the PEP members commonly have impressive resumes in fact they are Pinocchios manipulated by Geppetto, the mayor.

It would be an important signal to the city if de Blasio appointed a highly respected board – a broad spectrum of New Yorkers with the expertise to work with a chancellor to create policies that support children and families.

Some have argued for board members who represent constituencies – I disagree. Parents are represented by the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Committee (CPAC) and similar organizations represent English language learners and children with disabilities. Unions represent employees.

I would suggest people of the caliber of David Jones, Community Service Society, James Hennessy, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University, Mary Driscoll, Dean of the School of Education at CCNY, Dick Parsons, Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners, LLC, Michael Rebell
Co-Founder; Executive Director, Campaign for Educational Equity, Ronald F. Ferguson
Senior Lecturer in Education and Public Policy, Harvard University, Mathew Goldstein, former Chancellor of the City University of New York, Luis O. Reyes Research Associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies/Centro De Estudios Puertorriqueños of Hunter College, CUNY, Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children, Joe Wayland, Simpson, Thatcher, LLP, Diane Ravitch, Historian, New York University, as examples. The city deserves an educational leadership that is immune to petty politics and can withstand the editorials in the NY Post.

Bill de Blasio is currently under attack from the right, his opponent points to support for the Sandinistas in the 80s and a honeymoon trip to Cuba. Sol Stern in the City Journal predicts the left, the far left, will be “feeding at the public trough,”

No group or individual will be deemed too far to the left as long as they jump on the de Blasio bandwagon. Lining up to receive their fair share of the spoils will be the old Acorn organization, now renamed New York Communities for Change; the far-left Working Families Party; the United Federation of Teachers and other municipal unions; the radical Service Employees International Union, including the former Communist-led health-care workers’ union Local 1199; the civil liberties and homeless lobbies; and, of course, the onetime racial arsonist Al Sharpton, now posing as a wise elder and political power broker. To varying degrees, each will have a place at the municipal trough. Meanwhile, at the other end of City Hall—thanks to the successful efforts of the Working Families Party in many local races this year—the newly elected city council will tilt further left and will dole out even more cash to radical and activist community groups.

A few months into his mayoralty the left will begin bashing de Blasio, he’s moving too slowly, why hasn’t he created the Socialist nirvana that they thought he espoused, or, ended “stop and frisk” and crime, why isn’t soma being handed out on street corners?

de Blasio needs the real estate developers, the investors, the Wall Street magnets, he needs the 1% to continue and invest and create jobs.

If the economy continues to improve, if tourists and their dollars continue to flock to the Apple, if some sense of sanity returns to Congress, the new mayor will have the dollars to address his “tale of two cities” campaign punditry.

If the gods are kind the next mayor can address the economic inequalities, if not, the city and the mayor will stumble.

A glittering panel of mayoral appointees can provide the new mayor with cover – can act as the “wise men (and women),” supporting policies to improve the lot for children and families.

The school board of the 70s, 80s and 90s were riven by petty politics, much more concerned with carrying out the political contracts of their patrons, the borough presidents, than reading scores or graduation rates. A school board with credentials, similar to the CUNY, SUNY and the Board Regents can serve as a true policy board engaging and supporting mayoral policies, as well as, on occasion, telling the mayor he should consider moving in a different direction.

And, BTW, does the current Board realize that barring a Weiner-esque disclosure they will be gone in three months?

A Review: “The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”

Jay-Z, A-Rod, and Diane! Superstars have instantly identifiable one-word names. Who would have guessed that a 75 year-old historian would seize the social media cyber world? With a dozen blogs and fifty tweets a day, with tens of thousands of followers Diane Ravitch has been the stalwart, the voice of reason in a sea of education critics.

We live in a world of advocacy research. We know the result of the research by the sponsor of the study. If The New Teacher Project, or the Gates Foundation sponsor a research project, the result will support the Duncan (de)form agenda; even in the word of academe we know what Eric Hanushek or Jay Greene on one side and Jesse Rothstein on the other are going to conclude. There is no middle ground.

Dr. Ravitch’s latest book, her tenth, could have been titled, “The Great School Wars, Part 2,” instead, “Reign of Error, The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”

I frequently pull my 1974 copy of ”The School Wars” off my shelf, with a full page photo of Diane, to review the battles over the schools through history.

The “purpose” of “Reign of Error” is laid out in the opening paragraph,

“The purpose of this book is to answer four questions.
First, is American education in crisis?
Second, is American education failing or declining?
Third, what is the evidence for the reforms now being promoted by the federal government and adopted by many state.
Fourth, what should we do to improve our schools and the lives of children”.

The book is a work of scholarship, every claim is footnoted and the forty-one charts present evidence, not “evidence” from biased studies, the evidence that Diane presents, the facts, are not in dispute.

An evidence-based book is a shining light in a world of “Waiting for Superman” movies or sleazy accusations from Campbell Brown. From the US Department of Education to the National Governors Association to State legislatures education policy is based on a “hope and a prayer” rather than evidence.

Dr. Ravitch is a thorn in the side of the rich and powerful – she insists on proof.

In chapter after chapter she challenges unproven claims, charter schools, high stakes testing, principal-teacher accountability, 24/7 test prep driven instruction, vouchers, Value-Added Modeling (VAM), she asks, again and again, where is the evidence?

She challenges the assault on public dollars – the movement from publicly funded public schools to moving public dollars to the private side, the support for for-profit charter schools and the enormous costs of creating and supporting high stakes testing; highly profitable cyber schools, attempts to replace school staffs with automated software. Ravitch exposes, to use a harsh but apt term, the rape of public education.

Ravitch is neither on the left or the right, in fact, these days it is hard to define the left and the right. The Tea Party conservatives and the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) both see Ravitch as an enemy.

Diane is a centrist, she supports what can be best called the best of the past, be it John Dewey or Maria Montessori.

“Genuine school reform,” Ravitch concludes, “must be built on hope, not fear; on encouragement, not threats; on inspiration, not compulsion; on trust, not carrots and sticks; on belief in the dignity of the human person, not a slavish devotion to data; on support and mutual respect, not a regime of punishment and blame. To be lasting, school reform must rely on collaboration and teamwork among students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and local communities.”

I finished the book on an intellectual high – how could anyone not read the “Reign of Error” and be convinced of the idiocy of the current destructive policies? Yet, Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz and Arne Duncan continue to badger and threaten and bluster.

Will Diane turnaround a decade of failed, selfish policies?

I hope the “Reign of Error” is a beginning of a new era in education.

“Room for Debate,” What are the New York City Education Challenges?

The New York Times invites debaters to comment on a timely issue in the “Room for Debate” blog. This week the topic is “New York City’s Public Education Challenges,” the debaters, Diane Ravitch, Geoffrey Canada, Pedro Noguera and Sol Stern.

The Times frames the debate,

The next mayor of New York City faces some tough challenges particularly when it comes to setting public education priorities. Should he or she abandon Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s fixation on testing and data-driven accountability, or expand school choice and close failing classrooms to give more options to families, especially English-language learners and those in low-income communities?

Diane Ravitch is an amazing woman – she has single handedly grasped the power of social media, she blogs ten times a day and tweets fifty times a day as well as speaking publicly around the nation, and, she had the time to write, “The Reign of Error,” publication date is September 17th. (She said she woke up at 4:30 every morning to write). She is the leader of the intellectual community opposing the (de)former vision of education. Arne Duncan must shiver at the mention of her name!

The subtitle of her book, “The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” is not angry scrry, it an evidence-based examination of the (de)reform agenda using US Department of Education data to skewer faulty claims (I will write a review at the publication date).

Diane’s response is straightforward,

The new mayor needs to abandon the cramped vision of the past decade. Testing, choice and accountability are a strategy to close schools and privatize them. Testing has become the be-all and end-all of schooling. Too much testing crushes creativity and imagination and obliterates the joy of learning. Tests should be used diagnostically, to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward teachers and close schools.

The new mayor should ask, “How can I make sure that there is a good public school in every neighborhood? What can I do to make sure that all children have access to the kind of education I would want for my own child?”

Geoffrey Canada is the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the much-touted charter school network. Canada also serves on the Cuomo Commission on Education Reform. The richly funded HCZ is praised all over the nation; the cradle-to-college pipeline has become a model for charter management organizations, the problem: HCZ replicable, it has extremely deep pocketed supporters, with questionable results. Helen Zelon, in City Limits, wrote an in-depth analysis of HCZ and points to a range of mediocre achievement (see Report here).

Canada has been a vigorous supporter of the Bloomberg policies, and argues,

Mayoral control means the next mayor has to continue to take full and unambiguous responsibility for how the city’s schools are working, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done. We need to strengthen our evaluation tools and isolate what’s moving the needle for our kids.

In advocating actions to improve our schools, the next mayor must not be afraid of the reaction from the public or vested interests, in particular in regard to controversial measures such as closing failing schools, continuing to support charter schools and the meaningful evaluation of teachers.

Pedro Noguera, is the Peter L. Agnew professor of education at New York University and the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education.

Pedro begins his essay with praise for the Bloomberg administration,

Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves credit for providing leadership that has led to significant improvement in New York’s public schools. Graduation rates have risen, there are more good schools available for New York parents to choose from, and there is a greater sense of accountability present in schools throughout the city.

And goes on to point to the “elephant in the room,” poverty.

First, as poverty rates have risen during the Bloomberg years, schools in New York’s poorest communities have been overwhelmed by a variety of social and economic issues that affect child development and limit school performance. Mayoral control never led to greater coordination among city departments so that social services could be provided to children and families in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The next mayor will need to coordinate city services — health, recreation, safety, child welfare — and work more closely with nonprofits, hospitals, universities and other institutions to develop systems of support for schools.

Noguera goes on to question the role of the department,

The Department of Education will need to do more than merely judge schools. It must also help schools to improve. Closing schools should be treated as a last resort — not the primary strategy used to deal with struggling schools.

A core question that has been acknowledged and not addressed are English language learners, 41% of children in the NYC schools live in households in which English is not the primary language.

Finally, in a city where over half the children come from homes where English is not spoken, shockingly little has been done to provide support to schools to meet the needs of English-language learners

Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and a frequent writer at the Institute’s City Journal, has written on education for decades. Sol has just written an “Advise to the Next Mayor“as well as questioning whether the department truly understands the Common Core.

Sol points to the issue that could very well sidetrack the implementation of the Common Core, the convoluted, impenetrable teacher evaluation plan,

The biggest education challenge our next mayor faces is the flawed teacher evaluation system that has been imposed on the schools by the Bloomberg administration. This so-called accountability reform is demoralizing for teachers and bad for children.

Bloomberg’s “accountability reform” is demoralizing for teachers and bad for children.
The current metric for evaluating teacher quality is based on a complicated algorithm that ranks each teacher based on growth (or “added value”) in his or her students’ test scores, adjusted for students’ socioeconomic status. The problem is that leading testing experts have raised serious questions about the reliability of the value-added methodology. Education researchers who still support the evaluations concede they are unstable and there is a substantial margin of error.

Moreover, test-based rankings for teachers will surely undermine the promising Common Core curriculum changes now being implemented in the schools. Under the Common Core, schools must broaden the curriculum to include “history/social studies science, and other disciplines.” … Under the current accountability system teachers tend to narrow the curriculum.

Therefore the next mayor should suspend the test-based teacher rankings in order to focus the education department’s full attention on successful implementation of the Common Core and new classroom curricula.

Three of the four debaters are sharply critical of the current administration and the fourth, an acolyte of the mayor, praises him and calls for more of the same.

Whomever ends up in Gracie Mansion could do worse than sitting down with Diane, Pedro and Sol, they probably are among the deepest thinkers delving into the direction of the school system, and, have no axe to grind. None are seeking jobs; none owe anything to anyone.

While including the so-called stakeholders, parents and teachers and principal, is crucial, listening to wisdom is vital.

The issues at the mayoral debates: pre-K, co-location of charter schools, network versus geographic districts, etc., while important, the debaters point the system in the right direction: Bill or Bill or Christine, take a deep breathe, and sit down with Diane, Pedro and Sol.