Tag Archives: Eric Nadelstern

“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.

Farina 1.0 Moving from Networks to Superintendencies, Do the “New” Superintendents Have the Skills to Lead School Districts?

Some principals are nervous, others panicky, it appears that for the first time principals are going to have a “boss.” The Chancellor has “hinted” to expect a January announcement that will empower superintendents and disempower network leaders.

Under the Bloomberg-Klein regency the school management system swung from “regions,” geographic entities with over 100 schools each; regional superintendents and local instructional superintendents closely monitored and directed schools; the ten regions replaced the 32 school districts and six high school districts. With a number of stops along the way the Department moved from Klein 1,0 through change after change to let’s call it Klein 4.0 – sixty networks (reduced to fifty-two). The networks are non-geographic affinity-based clusters of schools, about 25 per network, a network leader with instructional and operations staffs. Principals choose a network, assess the network, and, can move to another network. Principals use the network as they see fit: work closely with the network or ignore – as long as their data is acceptable. Geographic district-based superintendents are required by state law, the superintendent’s only staff member: a parent advocate. The role of the superintendent is evaluating portfolios of probationary teachers seeking tenure, making tenure decisions based on the principal recommendations, responding to parent concerns and conducting the two-day Quality Review. (See the 2014-15 Quality Review Rubric here). The network prepares schools for the Quality Review (QR) visit, commonly conducting mock visits to prepare the school for the “dog and pony” show.

What should be the role of the layer above the principal, the network leader or superintendent or whomever?

Eric Nadelstern, in a comment on an earlier blog wrote,

Principals, in consultation with teachers, parents and the students themselves, should make the important decisions. The legitimate role of the supt/district is to find the best principals available, support them, develop them, provide incentives to do good work, protect them from outside interference, and ultimately, hold them accountable for the highest levels of student performance.

I generally agree with Eric. Our problem is that for years we have simply abandoned principals. Some have thrived, others stumble and too many may not be up to the job.

In one school the principal proudly told me “our staff is totally committed to restorative justice.” Unfortunately the kids weren’t, chaos was the norm, the Tweed principal mentor shrugged: the principal was the CEO.

Another school was plagued by staff turnover, teachers kept leaving, and the principal bemoaned, “I can’t get them to buy into my vision.” Maybe the principal should visit an optometrist?

Ken, another commenter on this site, references principal after principal who don’t hold post-observation conferences, they observe the teacher the requisite number of times, enter the observation in the ADVANCE (See description of teacher evaluation system here) database, observations are viewed as compliance only.

The Department describes the teacher observation system

Advance, New York City’s new system of teacher evaluation and development, was designed to provide the City’s teachers with accurate feedback on their performance, and the support necessary to improve their practice with the goal of improved student outcomes to ensure all students graduate college and career ready.

Frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers continuously strengthen their instruction is a central feature of both the NYCDOE’s Citywide Instructional Expectations and Advance.

How often do “frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers” actually occur? And, if it doesn’t, who can make it happen?

How often do school leaders engage the teacher in discussion, a two-way discussion, about a lesson?

The Department training program is teams of principals observing a lesson and then discussing the “grade” in a facilitated discussion. A reviewer describes the requisite skills of the school leader in Charlotte Danielson’s”
Talk about Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations,”

… help[ing] school leaders understand the value of reflective, informal professional conversations in promoting a positive environment of inquiry, support, and teacher development … explains the critical function of informal professional conversations in ongoing teacher learning, Explores the interaction of power and leadership in schools [and] outlines the conversation skills that school leaders need to initiate and engage in successful conversations

The written observation report documents the actual observation, the interaction between the school leader and the teacher, the “Talk about Teaching” engages the school leader and teacher in a professional conversation, far more important than the actual report.

Eric writes the role of the school district leader is “… find the best principals available, support them, and develop them.” Supporting and developing principals is a complex skill.

We must not return to school district leaders who attempt to impose particular policies. Edward Demming, the iconic leadership guru tells us, “You cannot inspect quality into the product if it is not already there.”

If you ask a teacher to identify their network or network leader you get a shrug, teachers can identify their district. A principal, who was enthusiastic about the move to districts, told me, “My kids are going to a middle school five blocks away, I’ve never had a discussion with the middle school principal, its nuts.”

Just as effective schools have strong school cultures district cultures are equally important.

The role of the “new” superintendents, hopefully, will blend the supportive network leader with providing timely feedback to principals and building both school and district cultures that support children, families and communities.

The challenges:

* The 94 “Renewal Schools,” the schools that have been on a path to drastic redesign or closing: Superintendents will be measured by success in improving schools that have been struggling for years.

* The PROSE (innovative) and Portfolio Schools: These 100 or so schools have had wide discretion, most clustered in “friendly” networks, how will they “fit” in a geographic network with supervisory oversight?

* The “Newer” principal problem: Hundreds of principals have been basically “self-employed,” as long their data was acceptable the principals ran the school without interference; superintendents could not enter schools without prior notice or in collaboration with the network. “New” superintendents, who are the rating officer, can enter schools and ask the tough questions and believe it may actually direct principals.

* Rebuilding school cultures: Teachers (and principals) feel battered. From the White House to the Secretary of Education, from the governor to the Board of Regents, there has been an endless pillorying of teachers. The recent exchange of letters between the governor (see here) and the Chancellor (see here) is just another example of blame-placing. Superintendents have to be role models, supporting, encouraging, a cheerleader, a teacher of principals, available to teachers and communities.

In the today’s current toxic climate the new superintendents must be healers, willing to spend time in schools, not primarily observing classes (although that will occur), but meeting and listening to teachers. To use Theodor Reik’s term, “listening with the third ear,” (the practice of listening for the deeper layers of meaning in order to glean what has not been said outright. It means perceiving the emotional underpinnings conveyed when someone is speaking to you).

Schools improve not because superintendents and principals force their will on teachers; schools improve because the school community, principals, teachers and the entire school community believe they can improve the school.

Will the “new” superintendents have the skills to reinvigorate and revive schools?

Should Poverty Be Acknowledged in Measures of School Accountability? If We Acknowledge Poverty How Do We Avoid a Two-Track System?

After my last blog, “Superintendents? Networks?” Eric Nadelstern, the former # 2 at the Department posted a commented:

The structure/plan issue is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue should be less which management structure and more what is the Mayor/Chancellor prepared to be held accountable for around student achievement. Once that is clearly defined, then perhaps, they can figure out how to get there.

Eric is correct, up to a point, the core question is accountability, and how do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we use it to improve schools?

About ten years ago I sat in a classroom in Long Island City and listened to Jim Leibman, the Klein accountability czar (and a law professor at Columbia) explain the school progress report accountability metric… Over the years the plan bobbed and weaved as it was used more for political ends than educational ends.

For a time I worked on a team to improve struggling schools, part of the “answer” was better data management: carefully checking long term absences and finding totally legitimate ways of turning them into “good” discharges resulted in higher graduation rates, and, small high schools with smart school support structures improved, well, improved their data and their Progress Report score.

The new administration has made changes to the school accountability system – the creation of Quality Snapshots for parents and Quality Guides for schools. See a sample of a Quality Guide for middle schools here
.
Almost all the schools in Brownsville and East New York received grades of “C,” “D.” or “F” while all the schools in Bayside in Queens received grades of “A” or “B.” Were the Bayside kids smarter? Or richer? Or whiter? Were the Bayside principals and teachers better teachers? If we switched teachers from Bayside to Brownsville would they take their school’s progress report score with them?

A large high school in Queens received an “A” and if you wandered around the school you would see mediocre instruction, teachers lecturing and kids writing notes, very little interaction. In an elementary school deep in the poorest section of the Bronx, classroom after classroom of deeply engaged kids, excellent instruction, and no progress on state tests: which school is “better”?

Closed schools are almost entirely in the poorest sections of the city.

Will the new Quality Guides produce different results than the letter grades Reports?

A touchy question: should poverty be taken into account in defining and measuring student progress?

On November 6th the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School will release a report entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.” Utilizing research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research and sociologist William Julius Wilson the report identifies “truly disadvantaged schools,” and creates a new metric, “total risk load,” eighteen factors that are high predictors of chronic absenteeism and Common Core scores, and, progress report grades.

Total risk load factors include: male unemployment, housing project and shelters in school catchment zone, adult education levels, poverty rates, principal, teacher and student turnover rates, student suspensions, special education and others.

Should we use the “total risk load” factor in assessing student progress?

The MRDC Small School paper praises the initiative, small high schools outperformed large high schools, Diane Ravitch posts a response from a department insider challenging the findings, and, I ask, was the small schools initiative an example of a more effective school structure or social capital sorting?

If we acknowledge race and class in an accountability system aren’t we creating a race-based two track system? We’re not going to create an Algebra 1 for poor kids, at some point progress must lead to on track.

What happens to the “struggling schools” if they don’t show progress?

Mayor de Blasio called our attention to “a tale of two cities,” how do we address the issue within the school system? Can we create a nuanced accountability system that measures progress and acknowledges the challenges of poverty?

Nadelstern avers accountability must be “clearly defined,” he’s absolutely right, and, until it is the de Blasio/Farina leadership will lack credibility.

Can New/Revised Rules for English Language Learners Improve Student Outcomes? or Does Change Begin in Schools and Classrooms? How Do We Encourage “Bottom Up” Reform?

Until now I don’t think I’ve agreed with an editorial in the NY Post since Dorothy Schiff sold the paper to Rudolf Murdoch.

A NY Post editorial includes comments made by Chancellor Farina’s newly appointed, and returnee from retirement, chief for “English-language learners,” Milady Baez, the Post writes,

[The Department] plans to help schools with kids struggling because of poor English by “increasing bilingual program options for ELLs,” “strategically using ELL density enrollment data,” “collaborating with a broad range of partners,” “strengthening the specialized skill sets necessary to effectively address the academic and linguistic needs of the diverse ELL population,” etc.

The problem is the Department leaders of programs for English language learners could have written the same sentences in 2004 or 1994 or 1984.

The Post reports a 2011 study,

• Of English learners who were in first grade in 2003, 36 percent failed the English proficiency test seven years in a row.
•  Only 30 percent passed within three years. The average kid took more than five.
•  Almost 70 percent of kids who failed for six or more years were born in America — meaning US citizens, not immigrants.

And, the editorial concludes,

In New York, we even reward schools for this failure, because they get money for each foreign-language speaker they have. In any language, that should be a recipe for change — not more of the same.

The unanimous 1974 Lau v. Nichols Supreme Court decision required school districts to provide specialized instruction to children deficit in English skills, the court wrote,

The failure of the San Francisco school system to provide English language instruction to … students of Chinese ancestry who do not speak English, or to provide them with other adequate instructional procedures, denies them a meaningful opportunity to participate in the public educational program, quoting Senator Humphey [the court averred[,

“Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination.”

For forty years New York City, and more recently New York State have struggled with the issue of how you adequately provide the particular type of education to children whose primary language is not English.

Under the wave of 1970-2002 reform, fully empowered community school districts, in the poorest districts with the least unsuccessful students; jobs came before education. In a South Bronx school district the superintendent told the principals they must create at least one bilingual class on every grade in every school. When a principal complained he didn’t have enough kids the superintendent snapped back, “OK, but the school board has teachers who need jobs, form the classes”

The Supreme Court decision rather than providing targeted instruction for English language learners simply was a vehicle to provide jobs.

The battle over whether to create bilingual classes or English as a Second Language (ESL) echoed across the city – with bilingual classes as the default unless the parent opted out. While I’m sure there are “highly effective” bi-lingual teachers; unfortunately we don;t see expected gains in classrooms.

New York State responded to the Lau decision by doing what the state does, they wrote dense regulations that required school districts to develop a system to identify English language learners, required minutes of instruction related to the level of the student’s English competency, and a system deciding whether the student had “scored out” of the program – compliance rules. The thirty year old rules are referred to as “Part 154.” (See regs here).

For the last three years the state and a “committee of practitioners” have been dueling over revisions to the rules, and, finally, made a number of changes. (See revised regs here and excellent power point here).

While the changes to the regulations are an improvement they are far, far from a solution – they are still compliance rules written by lawyers.

If a school used the correct procedures for identifying English language learners, provided the appropriate minutes of instruction and the other rules all is fine – the regulations ignore student progress; a prime example of “…the operation was a success but the patient died.”

The number of children who qualify for English language learners services continues to increase and increase rapidly outside of New York City.

NYC: 151,000
Brentwood: 5.100
Buffalo: 4.100
Rochester: 3,500
Yonkers: 3,000

That’s right; the city with the second largest numbers of ELLs is Brentwood on Long Island. School districts outside of New York City are struggling with increasing numbers of students who require ELL instruction.

Complying with state regulations cost additional dollars – hiring appropriately certified teachers, class sizes, training, materials, etc., who pays the additional costs? The state funding formula does not provide additional dollars for English language learners (New York City does provide additional funding per student). As Commissioner King explained, school districts will have to make difficult choices – it may be necessary to dump popular programs, maybe an advanced placement class or a sports team to create English language learner classes and services. In the era of the 2% property tax cap these will be difficult and potentially politically toxic decisions.

The core questions are not confronted in state regulations: what is working, why is it working, can successful practices be transferred to other schools?

And, BTW, there are a number of highly successful schools.

Twenty-five years ago the International High School at La Guardia College was opened – a high school that only admitted students who were in the country four or fewer years: the principal, Eric Nadelstern was innovative, irascible and a thorn in the skin of the bureaucracy. The state approved his plans to assess students by portfolio instead of regents exams; he worked with the union to create a different kind of teacher transfer program and created a model for peer evaluation. The number of International High Schools increased, the Internationals Network for Public Schools, a 401(c) not-for-profit supports the increasing number of schools – fifteen in New York City and a number of others across the country. The student results are at or above the results for all students (See student results here).

Newcomer High School in Queens accepts students “new to the nation” and receives superb marks under the department’s rigid accountability rules (See School Progress Report here)

What can we learn?

* School leadership and school district supports are crucial … only alchemists can change dross to gold and you can’t change mediocrity to model leadership – collections of college credits do not a school leader make, and, I’ve yet to meet an alchemist. There is an alarming shortage of effective school leaders.

* Sadly, colleges accept almost anyone into education programs; too many students attain certifications that do not have the skills. – the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) may be forcing sweeping changes in teacher preparation, there will be considerable pushback.

* Collaboration: school leader to school leader, school leader to staff, collaboration among staff members, among students, a top to bottom collaborative environment. The vast majority of schools are top down management models and teachers primarily work alone in classrooms only occasionally interacting with colleagues.

How many school leaders tell a teacher, watch me, I’m going to teach a mini-lesson in your class … and we can talk about it. How many school leaders are capable of engaging teachers and staffs in meaningful discussions about practice? (See Charlotte Danielson, Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations)

How many schools are designed to facilitate teacher collaboration – teachers working together, discussing actual kids, jointly creating lessons and rubrics, seeing student work from other teachers’ classrooms, watching colleagues teach classes and engaging in discussions, etc.?

Press releases, memoranda, ukases, “programs,” rarely change what happens within schools and classrooms: to change outcomes for children with limited or absent English skills schools have to change practice not simply comply with the rules. Skilled teachers, skilled teachers working with other skilled teachers, “cultural awareness,” socio-emotional supports for children and caregivers, change is complex and difficult, we inherently look at calls for change as punishment.

In spite of the clarion calls from Gracie Mansion and Tweed change starts in schools and classrooms, I don’t see a commitment to change schools, only pleas to hug more, which is not a bad thing; however, hugs alone don’t make kids better speakers of English or writers or readers or mathematicians, or, maybe more importantly, better coders (See www. code.org)

Will the New Mayor/Chancellor Feign a New Path or Offer True Collaboration? Can the Union Move from Confrontation to Collaboration?

The announcement of the new chancellor is imminent … a few days.

Mayor de Blasio, the new chancellor, the teacher and supervisor union presidents Mulgrew and Logan and recognizable parent leaders will be standing on the podium. The newly selected chancellor will use the occasion to set a new path, the “right” statements about working together, the required platitudes, a new direction for a new administration.

Within a week or two the mayor and the chancellor will make “bold” announcements turning around a few of the Bloomberg initiatives. As I have written previously, maybe a freeze on co-locations and the end of the ATR pool, a number of concrete symbolic steps that tell the workforce we intend to turnaround the twelve years of Bloomberg.

Does turnaround mean devolving to the pre-Bloomberg past or setting a new path to the future?

For teachers the past is appealing, it’s familiar: geographic school districts, powerful superintendents, policy set from Central, a paramilitary structure, and a noblesse oblige attitude toward teachers. The Klein administration came to power and imposed a new structure; moving from 32 community school districts to five regional K-12 regions; over the years the Bloomberg regency morphed to four “knowledge” networks, to quasi-independent empowerment schools, eliminated the position of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning and established sixty affinity-based 25 school networks, it was dizzying. Bloomberg/Klein were purposefully disruptive, the goal to destroy the past, in essence “burn the books.” burn the memories.

Where will the new chancellor take us?

Mike Petrilli, a the incoming president of a the Fordham Foundation, a conservative think tank, in the NY Daily News, urges,

… de Blasio needs to come to grips with a simple truth: Any gains provided by a massive new investment in preschool will quickly fade away if he doesn’t also tackle New York City’s mediocre elementary schools.

What makes them mediocre? It’s the curriculum, stupid — or the lack thereof. When Bloomberg and Joel Klein exploded on the scene in the early 2000s, they were famously agnostic about what kids actually learn in the classroom day-to-day. To Klein’s credit, he eventually came to see the errors of his ways, and in his last years as chancellor he embraced the Core Knowledge program — a coherent, content-rich curriculum that is a model for what kids in New York, and nationwide, need if they are going to become strong readers.

What’s so special about content knowledge? As scholar and Core Knowledge creator E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has argued for 30 years — and as more recent cognitive science has confirmed — knowledge is the building block of literacy. Once students learn to “decode” the English language, their ability to comprehend what they read is all about what they know.

Should the new chancellor “require” an elementary school curriculum, be it Core Knowledge or another curriculum? How many decisions should come from on high? If curriculum is decided by the school district leaders, if classroom instruction methodology is also mandated, as it is in requiring the Danielson Frameworks, do we squelch innovation?

Should the new core principles be developed with the participation of the stakeholders?

Should the new school district leader, as Joel Klein did, embrace a curriculum for the entire city? Bring coherence; create a rigid Chancellor’s District approach for every school?

Or, is Eric Nadelstern right? “The more authority you share, the more influential you become.”

Jonathan Molofsky, a nationally recognized professional developer avers, “The answers are in the room.” The answers are not in the distant aeries of Boards of Education, the answers are not in selecting the “right” reading program or in hiring the “right” consultant, the answers in are in the hearts and minds of each and every teacher. The challenge is to move teachers from benign followers of the ukases from on high to instructional partners, partners with colleagues working under the direction of a strong leader.

Randi Weingarten, in the Winter, 2013-14 issue of the American Educator writes,

Students and educators benefit greatly from effective partnerships between teacher unions and school districts … unfortunately, without partners on both sides of the labor-management equation willing to put students in the forefront of their concerns, significant progress will be impeded, if not impossible.

Frankly collaboration is harder than confrontation. Many people are more comfortable with the us-versus- them posture … While some see collaboration as capitulation what it does is the seeding of trust and good will, not the ceding of authority and responsibility. It’s not easy, but it is effective.

For some inside the ranks of the union, collaboration does mean capitulation, and the firmest defenders of every comma in the union contract are frequently the union activists.

Will the union leadership willing to negotiate a new contract based on collaboration?

There is abundant research to support a culture of collaboration. Glen Anrig in “Cultivating Collaboration: The Science behind Thriving Labor-Management Relationships,” points us to a study by the highly regarded Chicago Consortium on School Research,

“… the most effective schools, based on test score improvement over time, …developed an unusually high degree of ‘relational trust’ among stakeholders [and] developed five key organizational features,

1. A coherent instructional guidance system, in which the curriculum, study materials and assessments are coordinated within and across grades with meaningful teacher involvement;

2. An effective system to improve instructional capacity, including making teachers’ classroom work public for examination by colleagues and external consultants, and to enable ongoing support and guidance for teachers;

3. Strong parent-community school ties, with an integrated support network for students;

4. A student-centered learning climate that identifies and responds to difficulties any child may be experiencing; and.

5. Leadership focused on cultivating teachers, parents and community members, so that they become invested in sharing overall responsibility for the school’s improvement.”

The tendency will be to follow the lead of John King, the State Commissioner, and issue regulations and requirements and press releases and declare victory, to see the principals and teachers and their organizations as “special interests” and simply move forward, after all that’s what school district leaders have been taught to do.

There is an opportunity in New York City to do what no chancellor has done, to change the direction of a school system with the union as a partner. It is risky for the union.

Perhaps begin by carving out a space – a collaboration zone with a “thin” contract?

After the press conferences fade and the initial elation ebbs, will the stakeholders engage? Will the new chancellor seek to engage with the union? Will the union take the risk of dragging along recalcitrant members?

From Washington to state capitals to Boards of Education, from the Broad Academy model, from Los Angeles to New York City the script has been the same: school choice, aka charter schools, school closings, accountability, aka testing and evaluating teachers based on dense algorithms, the Common Core, the denigration of senior teachers, aka Teach For America, and, generally viewing teachers and their unions as obstacles to progress.

Will de Blasio and his new chancellor break the mold and will the unions take the risk of moving to a collaborative model?

A new mayor with new ideas offers the possibility of institutional change, offers the possibility of creating new school cultures; windows for change are only open for a while.

FLASH: Newspapers and twitter announce de Blasio has chosen Carmen Farina as the new chancellor.

The Common Core Wars: Why Are the Left and the Right Both Attacking and Defending the Common Core?

The Common Core (CCSS) is under attack from the left and the right, and being rigorously defended, from the left and the right – perhaps one of the few bi-partisan issues on the table, attack and defense from both sides at the same time!

The Tea Party Republicans and the Libertarians attack the CCSS as a plot to take over the minds of America’s youth as well as supporting vouchers, charter schools and the elimination of any federal role in education. They are joined by opponents of charters, supporters of increased federal aid for the poorest schools, Diane Ravitch, while “agnostic” on the Common Core links to anti CCSS sites. Governors, the business community and AFT President Randi Weingarten support CCSS.

Why have the standards evoked such passions across the political spectrum?

I see the standards as aspirational goals – skills that we want to students to master at each grade level. In crafting units and lessons, in designing rubrics we embed the CCSS in each unit and lesson. As kids move through the grades we hope that kids begin to achieve the CCSS goals.

Unfortunately the Common Core at the federal and state level is viewed as a “test,” kids and teachers who are winners or losers.

To what purpose?

Will the specter of doom, being “left back,” being branded a failure, being threatened with dismissal make kids and teachers work harder or smarter?

While I believe the standards are a tool for teachers the use of the standards to hold a scimitar over the heads of students, teachers and principals is obnoxious.

The grades 6-8 Social Studies Common Core State Standards (below) are guides to teachers – it would be nice if both the state and the city published “clickable” curriculum on the EngageNY website – it is unfathomable that the state designs tests without providing teachers with curriculum,

I have no problem with the standards; they set a high bar, as teachers we must figure out how to help our students reach higher.

Key Ideas and Details
• Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
• Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
• Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Craft and Structure
• Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
• Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
• Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
• Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
• Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
• By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently

Social Studies teachers I meet see the standards above as rigorous, and as a guide, a focus for their lessons.

Unfortunately the state has not provided the principals and teachers with materials or training or the time to feel confident in moving up the bar.

The commissioner may gloat that the state has spent at $1.5 billion to train teachers; the dollars were not well spent. When the majority of teachers admit that they are not equipped to fully implement the standards isn’t that an indictment of the state-sponsored training? See Report by Michael Casserly, Council of Great City Schools at Steinhardt/NYU in February, 2013.

The state carefully managed establishing cut scores that guaranteed “pass” rates in the 30% range – are 70% of students in New York State “failing”? Of course not. (Read a description of the Person-Regent Fellows management of the cut score-setting process, BTW, that process appears to exclude actual classroom teachers)

When asked to go along with other states, and AFT President Weingarten, and place a moratorium on the impact of the test scores the commissioner refused.

It is the commissioner who is failing – not the students.

He has shown an abysmal lack of leadership.

Eric Nadelstern, the former chief academic officer in New York City wrote in a blog comment,

The easy way for Albany to lead is to make the tests harder and then point fingers. The real work takes place in hundreds of thousands of classrooms throughout the State where teachers interact with students each day. To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests. Unfortunately, that would require bold and effective leaders at a time when such individuals are as rare in education and politics as unicorns.

So the student assessments get harder, the teacher evaluations grow more complicated, and the leadership declares victory and seeks higher office.

Eric is absolutely correct, “To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests”

New York City has provided networks and principals with excellent guidance; however, the network system is incapable of carrying out the “Instructional Expectations” set by Tweed. (Read the Citywide Instructional Expectation: 2013-14 document – it is excellent)

At the heart of the Instructional Expectations is instruction – the interaction of supervisors and teachers in improving instructional practice,

Frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers

… educators learn best from professional development that is embedded in their everyday work. For teachers, this means learning experiences delivered by the school leaders who are most knowledgeable about their skills and experiences. School-based learning experiences that engage teachers in professional conversations with their peers and administrators about high-quality teaching foster both a professional community and shared learning and support.

In the real world the best of plans go awry.

Cluster and network leaders, for the most part, do not have the skills to work with principals and teachers. Ask a teacher to identify their network; they have no idea, ask a teacher to identify their network leader, again, no idea.

“Frequent classroom observations” is viewed as harassment in a climate where the mayor spends his time attacking the union and the union fights back.

Unfortunately the union is in a fight-first mode, it is difficult for the union to defend principals who are actually using frequent classroom observation to improve instruction.

What is so distressing is that the commissioner, who is viewed so negatively by the folks in the field, the folks who actually man schools and classrooms, moves further and further away from practitioners.

If the commissioner simply said:

* The first year is a moratorium year – the tests will only be used to for diagnostic purposes and to set a baseline.

* in year two the test will be used to measure growth – not to measure whether the student has achieved the Common Core standards.

I was at a birthday party for a little girl, everyone was having a wonderful time, and a number of the attendees were teachers in Brownsville. A balloon burst with a loud “pop,” someone joked, “Makes us feel right at home.” Everyone laughed.

I’m not being sarcastic; not being retributive, just a suggestion, maybe the commissioner and his family should move into Brownsville for a couple of weeks.