Tag Archives: ESEA

If I Were a Candidate for the Board of Regents … (The Five-Minute Opening Statement I Wish a Candidate Would Have Made)

Last week a joint meeting of the Education and Higher Education Committees of the NYS Assembly interviewed scores of applicants for the seven regents positions that up for election or re-election. Two positions are vacant (Queens and Westchester/Rockland/Putnam) and five are candidates for re-election.

On Monday the committee interviewed the incumbents and for the remainder of the week interviewed other aspirants. Usually the local electeds select a candidate, and at a joint meeting of both houses “elects” the regent. I sat through a number of the interviews, tedious. The candidates are allowed a five minute presentation and respond to questions; the interviews last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending upon the number of legislators present and interest in the viability of the candidate. Below: the five minute presentation I hope a candidate would have given.


Members of the legislature, the media and others in the audience,

The Board of Regents was created in 1784 and is vested with the authority to establish policy for all schools and professions in New York State. Unfortunately the board continues to operate aloof from the citizens of the state. There appears to be a growing disconnect between parents, legislators and board members.

Board members are elected by a joint meeting of the legislature to represent their judicial district or, as at -large members. The board must change its practices so that, to the fullest extent possible, the public can both be aware of the deliberations of the board, and, participate in the discussions.

As a prospective board member I propose structural changes,

* The entire regents meeting, the full board meeting and the committee meetings, especially P-12 and Higher Ed committees, should be webcast and archived, the comments of the board members should be available to the state, not just the audience on that particular day.

* There must be an opportunity for public comment. Virtually every public meeting, from school board to town hall has a mechanism for real time public comment, a parent in White Plains, Rochester, Buffalo, the North Country or the Bronx should have an opportunity to participate in the meeting via cyberspace.

* Regents should be required to hold public forums in their districts, perhaps fall, winter and spring, once again, an opportunity for the public to interact, face to face, with regents members.

* The regents agenda and attachments should be written in “plain English,” with a brief explanation for each item and posted online a week before the meetings, now they are available Friday or Saturday before the Monday meeting and densely written.

* The board should seek funding for a state-wide Parent Information Center, similar to the New York City “311” system. The ability to establish a mechanism to answer parent questions varies widely throughout the state, consolidating into one state operated center is essential.

The role of the regents is to establish policy; increasingly policy has been set in Washington and regents role has been to figure out procedures to implement these policies. The Common Core and Race to the Top are national policies and they have dominated educational discussions for the last five years. The Malatras letters from the governor are another example of overreach; just as educational policies should not be written in stone in Washington nor should they be written on the second floor of the Capital.

Educational policy has been set by the commissioner, not the regents. The Race to the Top funding ends in June and the board must re-establish its role.

What are the priorities of the regents?

I suggest: equitable, adequate funding, responding to the current high stakes testing climate, creating a pathway to work or college for all students, responding to the criticism of “low performing” schools, the testing of English language learners and students with disabilities, too many school districts, the power and authority of the SED to intervene in school districts are some of the items that should become priorities of the regents.

Currently the feds require that students with disabilities are tested at their chronological age, not at their functional level, the result is dooming kids to failure; and, the feds also require that English language learners are tested after one year in school regardless of their level of English acquisition. Regent Phillips, who is not seeking re-election, on numerous occasions has suggested that the regents simply do what is right and confront the feds, create a crisis. Unfortunately his suggestion has not resonated with his peers.

Under the current ESEA Waiver, Reward Schools receive additional funding, why are we supporting sending additional dollars to successful schools? Perhaps we should consider relieving successful schools from burdensome reporting requirements and use the dollars to support the neediest schools.

A core question deals with a mechanism to determine individual student and school progress: are the current Common Core-based tests the best way to assess progress?

The seventeen women and men in a room, the members of the board, with broad public input, should set the direction of education in the state of New York.

Thank you for your patience and I look forward to your questions.

Unfortunately the audience for the interviews was meager, a few members of the regents, a few media reps, a NYSUT staffer, and a few others. The interviews were not live-streamed.

There is no formal process, the local legislators will caucus, discuss among themselves, and recommend to the brand new Assembly leadership. Early in March the legislature will formally elect, or reelect the candidates and incumbents.

Civics 101: Using The Struggle Over the Reauthorization of NCLB/ESEA as a Teaching Tool

On January 21st the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the long-delayed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, The committee chair, Lamar Alexander is hopeful that the process will actually produce a reauthorized law,

“During the last six years, this committee has held 24 hearings and reported two bills to the Senate floor to fix the law’s problems. We should be able to finish our work within the first few weeks of 2015 so the full Senate can act.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the outcome, the hearing is only one step in the long path from idea to bill to law.

A refresher minicourse: just in case you were daydreaming on that day that your teacher taught “how a bill becomes a law.”

The 435-member House of Representatives and the 100-member Senate must pass the same bill and the bill becomes a law when signed by the president. If the president vetoes a bill both houses must override the veto with a 2/3 vote in each house.

If the houses pass different bills, which is commonplace, a conference committee made up of members of both houses attempts to reconcile the bills, if they are able to agree on a single bill both houses must pass the reconciled bill and send along to the President for signature.

Republicans control both houses which allow them to set the agendas; they control the time frame of hearings and the text of any bill. Due to the procedural rules of the Senate a bill requires 60 votes to come to the floor for discussion and an eventual vote. On the Senate side any bill must be bipartisan enough to gain sufficient Democratic votes to reach the 60 vote threshold and the party members do not necessarily vote as a bloc. The required 60 votes, or the negative 41 votes, can contain members of both parties who, for totally different reasons support or object to the bill, or to some part of the bill.

Sometime later in the session the House committee will begin discussions. The Republicans have the largest majority since the end of World War 2 and can pass any bill they choose to pass; however, there are 30-40 members on the extreme right who may not agree with the mainstream Republicans. The Republican leadership will not bring a bill to the floor for a vote unless the bill has sufficient Republican votes, the Republican leadership would not look across the aisle for Democratic votes, to do so would alienate the right wing of the party.

If the House and the Senate pass reconciled bills and pass along to the President, he can veto the bill, in effect killing the bill. It is extremely difficult to override a presidential veto. The repercussions of a veto could impact well beyond the issue, if the bill was a bipartisan bill, vetoing the bill could alienate Democrats in the Senate, who the President needs to pass, or, to block passage of other legislation.

If all goes smoothly, which is unlikely, a bill could be on the President’s desk for signature within a few months. If the process leaks into the fall it will get caught up in the 2016 presidential primary season and may fall by the wayside. A number of senators, on both sides of the aisle are flirting with a presidential run and the reauthorization bill could easily get caught up in the primary politics. Party primaries attract core voters, on the Republican side, the Tea Party, the anti-government voters; on the Democratic side the most progressive wing. Republican candidates may choose to run on an “abolish the entire Department of Education” platform while a Democratic candidate might run on a “protect the civil rights of students at risk” platform, meaning no bill would emerge.

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 eloquently portrayed the roles of the branches of government,

To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. .

… it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

The 387-page discussion draft of the bill begins the political process in the Senate.

Alexander announced the committee’s first hearing this year on No Child Left Behind, and said he would hold additional hearings after conferring with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) He also announced beginning this week bipartisan meetings in the Senate education committee to discuss the chairman’s discussion draft, consider changes and improvements, identify areas of agreement, and discuss options to proceed.

The first hearing included two classroom teachers from New York City, an elementary school teacher who led a grassroots campaign against standardized testing (“Teachers of Conscience”) and a high school teacher from a school that uses a state-approved portfolio/roundtable exam waiver from the state as well as beginning a union contract approved peer review initiative. (Watch hearing here)

The American Federation of Teachers position supports a nuanced position on the use of tests,

We are calling on Congress to end the use of annual tests for high-stakes consequences. Let’s instead use annual assessments to give parents and teachers the information they need to help students grow, while providing the federal government with information to direct resources to the schools and districts that need extra support.

We’re calling for a robust accountability system that uses multiple measures—which could include factors like whether students have access to art, music and physical education, and whether they have support from specialists like school librarians, nurses and counselors. Such a system should allow for ideas like portfolios rather than bubble tests. We recommend a limited use of testing to measure progress—including what to do if there isn’t progress—through grade-span testing. That means instead of annual high-stakes tests, we’d have tests once between third and fifth grades, once between sixth and eighth grades, and once in high school.

Other groups will advocate for a range of approaches, John King, the former NYS Commissioner will be roaming the halls of Congress supporting the core principles of the Duncan waiver system and the continuation of annual testing that can be used for high stakes decision-making. Others will call for the elimination of any required testing leaving all decisions to the states, and, some will call for the prohibition of the Common Core and a few will call for the disbanding of the Department of Education.

Wade Henderson, who leads a civil rights organization, is wary of eliminating annual testing,

Stepping too far back from testing requirements could strand poor and minority students, said Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The bill, as a general matter, bends over backward to accommodate the interests of state and local government entities that have both failed our children and avoided any real accountability for their failures,” he said. “Congress must not pass any … bill that erodes the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights in education.”

Elizabeth Warren, although a liberal Democrat, also questions granting states wider powers over spending federal dollars,

“All a state would have to do to get federal dollars is submit a plan with a lot of promises,” with no guarantee of a follow through, she said. “If the only principle is the states should be able to do whatever they want, then they could raise their own tax dollars to pay for it.”

Republican chair Alexander entered a letter in the record from Carol Burris, a Long Island principal who is a sharp critic of high stakes testing, Burris wrote,

“The unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high-stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well,”

The Senate side has always be collegial, up to a point; the rules require cobbling together 60 votes, Republicans need Democrats.

It is likely that a bill will reach the floor with commitments for sixty votes.

In the House minority Democrats have no clout; House procedures allow the majority party to set the rules. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is holding its first organizational meeting on January 21st; there are over 200 bills that are sitting in the subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education that were introduced in the last session, the vast majority will die in committee.

James Madison captures the essence, the soul of our governmental process, “… what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature. If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The internal conflicts within the individual houses, the conflicts between the houses and the ultimate power of the executive, to quote Madison are a “reflection on human nature.” Legislators are bipartisan when it is in their self-interest, and, for the last few years legislators have resisted “coming together,” ideology is trumping pragmatism.

The passage of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, NCLB) would be the crowning achievement of Alexander’s career.

I am optimistic.

How Will the Republican Control of Both Houses of Congress Impact the Reauthorization of ESEA and Other Education Policies?

The Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate; they control the flow of legislation to the President’s desk, yes, the cloture rule requires 60 votes to bring a bill to a vote and the Dems can replace the Repubs as obstructionists.

While Democratic candidates tried to distance themselves from the President the election was a referendum on Barack Obama. In 2008 and 2012 the Obama team created a “new” coalition – millennials, new voters, well-educated women, Afro-American and Hispanic voters, in the midterms, 2010 and 2014 the coalition never came together.

I will leave deep analysis to the endless array of talking heads, for me a simpler question: How will the Republican congress impact education.

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

At the core of the Republican mantra is a smaller government, and smaller government means fewer federal dollars. The major source of federal education dollars is Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Congress determines the total pool of dollars and the formula by which the dollars are distributed. While the current funding formula is complex (Read description here) the formula is driven by levels of poverty. A Republican controlled Congress might shrink the total pool and change the formula to give states more flexibility and send a larger share to poor rural areas and away from urban areas.

The 2013 bill that passed the House contained policies that might be attractive to teachers and their unions.

The July 2013 House bill would dramatically reduce the federal “footprint” on education by

§ eliminating the current federal accountability system of adequate yearly progress (AYP) and allow states and school districts to set their own testing standards;
§ eliminating the corrective actions for failing schools;
§ repealing the “highly qualified teacher” definition;
§ eliminating “more than 70” existing programs, consolidating others, and granting broad autonomy to states; and schools in the administration of education.
§ Removes a policy, requiring school districts to use student test scores in teacher evaluations
§ Allows parents to take federal education money and use it to send their children to other public schools, including charter schools.

The chairs of the education committees in both houses will change from 2013 and there is no way of knowing whether the Repubs will recycle the 2013 bill or start from scratch with a new bill.

The Rulemaking Authority of the US Department of Education

There is no question that any bill would curtail the role of the Department of Education. The Duncan USDOE has been more aggressive than any predecessor in driving policy through their rulemaking and budgetary powers. The four plus billions in Race to the Top dollars required a commitment to the Common Core, teacher evaluation and a host of other requirements. Two examples: students who have been in the country for more than a year, regardless of their English skills must take state tests and the data included in the school, school district and state assessments. Requests to move the requirement to two or three years have been denied by the USDOE. Student with Disabilities, except for the lowest functioning 1% must take state tests, and, once again, all the data redounds to the school, district and state. Requests to change the reg have been denied.

Advocacy organizations have supported the intensive rulemaking fearing that states may divert dollars for other purposes. Currently the feds require that all testing data is disaggregated by sub-group, by race, ethnicity and handicapping condition, and the data made public, if the requirement is removed states may not be so anxious to release, or even collect the data.

The Feds and the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards are not a federal program, although the Duncan Department strongly endorses the CCSS. No Child Left Behind (No Child Left Behind is the name given to ESEA in the 2002 reauthorization) requires testing in English and Mathematics for all children in grades 3-8 and passing exams in English, Mathematics and Science to graduate high school. Federal law does prohibit the feds from requiring any specific curriculum and the CCSS are not a curriculum. A reauthorized ESEA could curtail any endorsement of the Common Core; the abandonment of the Core is a state responsibility.

Repeal/Changing the Testing Requirements of NCLB

The annual testing requirements of NCLB are the most politically sensitive of all education policies. The revolt among parents is not dying, it continues to escalate, and, it is neither left or right, it cuts across the political spectrum. Will the Republicans try and steal the thunder and replace annual testing with tests every third year, or, use a sampling technique similar to NAEP tests to monitor academic progress?

A simpler approach is to leave the testing to the states, deflect the public anger away from Washington and move it to state capitals.

Charter Schools, Vouchers and the Marketplace Solutions.

Whatever the legislation a movement to competition, to use Governor Cuomo’s phrase, “to end the monopoly” of public schools will be part of any federal legislation. While charter schools and vouchers are a state responsibility the feds can write legislation to remove any barriers and provide dollars to encourage states to take a charter or voucher path.
You may notice that soon to be majority leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell held a press conference followed by a lengthy press conference by President Obama: both love fests; on Friday the President is meeting with the Republican leaders, over the length of both news conferences not a word about education.

In the democratic corner Joe Williams the leader of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER): supports charter schools and vouchers, the common core and opposes unions, Diane Ravitch, the leader of the Network for Public Education: opposes charter schools, the common core and works with the unions. Both democrats; miles apart. On the Republican side the Tea Partiers speak of Obamacore, revile the federal role in education as well as the dismantling of public education, also in the party are the supporters of Chambers of Commerce, supporters of testing and the common core.

Educational politics today is complicated, really complicated.

As the new Congress convenes in January committees in both houses will begin to craft reauthorizations of ESEA, and by next summer the conference committee will reconcile the bills from both houses, I suspect the many advocates of current USDOE policies and practices will urge the President to veto any bill.

Bill Gates and Eli Broad will lobby behind the scenes, the Tea Partiers in both houses will cry for returning education authority to the states.

Stay tuned.

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