Tag Archives: Farina

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?

In Praise of Test Prep in the World of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards Tests

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Coach Anon.

In the pure, idyllic world of David Coleman, the Common Core spokesperson (watch “Bringing the Common Core to Life,” April, 2011) the only impact on kids would be teachers and each and every teacher would teach lessons within the Common Core, curriculum-free, skills-based and Common Core tests would only reflect the skills of the teacher without any impact from environment and context, an idyllic world that never existed and never will exist.

We test all kids in grades 3-8 each and every year and the tests are “high stakes,” for kids, for teachers and for schools.

Do some kids do better than others because they have “smarter” genes or “better teachers” or were “better prepared” or “studied harder” or come from a “culturally richer environment?”

Can we draw analogies with sports?

David Epstein, in The Sports Gene (2013) explores the classic question, “nature versus nurture.” Are there genes which determine success in sports, or, does practice determine success?

… he forcefully argues that no single known gene is sufficient to ensure athletic success. His answer to the question “Nature or nurture?” is both … Mr. Epstein argues that we often confuse innate talent with spirit or effort.

If “spirit and effort” are crucial factors, Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success, tells us,

“Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger role preparation seems to play.”

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

We argue that preparing to play basketball or golf or preparing to take the bar exam requires practice, candidates spend innumerable hours taking a cram course, aka, test prep, to prepare themselves for the bar exam. Did your kid take an SAT prep course? Kids spend hundreds of hours preparing for the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT).

Ironically the leader of the NYC School System and the NYS Governor both bemoan excessive test prep,

Chancellor Carmen Farina’s latest message to principals encourages them not to go overboard in their preparation for state tests that begin in just three weeks.

Governor Cuomo’s hastily assembled Task Force also derided test prep,

Cuomo’s group made the same suggestion, arguing that schools should spend no more than 1 percent of instructional time on state exams, no more than 1 percent on local tests and no more than 2 percent on test prep.

Test prep is not synonymous with poor instruction, if by test prep you mean mindlessly taking practice tests you are correct. Test prep must meet the same high standards we expect from all instruction. Kids will be taking “tests” throughout their school lives – a classroom quiz, a graded classroom oral presentation, a graded essay or project, end of year summative assessments, Regents Exams, Advanced Placement Exams, SATs and/or ACTs and on and on. Preparing students to take tests is called test sophistication, and, the very same Department of Education whose current leader reminds principals “not to go overboard” has also prepared a 43-page test sophistication guide

Test taking strategies can be taught and practiced. The Guide begins by listing thirteen General Strategies: from a simple “Manage time effectively while test taking,” and moving towards some more complex strategies. The Guide discusses Essay Questions and suggests, “Use checklists to assure all parts of the question are answered,” and “Use key vocabulary words.” and provides a course in test sophistication, a lesson by lesson guide to assist students in preparing for tests.

Lloyd Bond, “My Child Doesn’t Test Well,” from Carnegie Perspectives delves,

It turns out that a sizable percentage of students perform well in their schoolwork but poorly on standardized, multiple-choice tests. Some may question whether this is a genuine phenomenon at all, arguing that low expectations and standards, and rampant grade inflation result in school “high performance” that is largely illusory. But I believe the phenomenon is real. There are students who genuinely perform well in school, but consistently do poorly on standardized tests of academic achievement. So what are the causes of poor test performance in the context of otherwise successful schoolwork?
I would propose four candidates: (1) test anxiety, (2) lack of test sophistication (or test-wiseness), (3) lack of automaticity and (4) test bias.

No one walks onto a basketball court or a golf course and excels, some are better natural athletes and will have initial success, unless they engage in thousands of hours of intelligent practice their skills will stultify.

Using test items similar to the items on the State tests on classroom tests is simply doing your job as a teacher – the State tests should not be a surprise. The State does provide “Sample ELA annotated questions” and some school districts have provided materials for their districts

Hopefully teachers do not stop regular lessons and begin weeks and weeks of test prep. Whether you call the instruction test prep or test sophistication one would hope instructional strategies would be embedded in day to day lessons. Teachers send messages, if they abhor test prep the message to the kids is clear and teachers are doing a disservice.

The decision-makers in the aeries of Washington and Albany have created a system – it is the job of the classroom teachers to teach their kids to beat the system.

“One man invents, the next circumvents,”

deBlasio’s Education Plate is Full: PreK, Contracts, Co-Location, Charters and Let’s Not Forget Running a School System.

de Blasio’s education plate runneth over…

Mayors, unlike presidents and governors, don’t have a Congress or a legislature to win over. In New York City the City Council has limited authority, they can “make trouble,” i. e., hold hearings and trash city officials, however the mayor runs the city. deB assured he would have a friend at the council by craftily managing the campaign for speaker. Melissa Mark-Viverito is more than an ally, she is a philosophical partner.

Tonight in Washington President Obama will spend an hour or so laying out his plans for the next year, probably broad strokes with a few specific program initiatives, immediately afterwards the Republicans will trash his ideas, the “official” response and the responses from the 2016 candidates – Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The president’s agenda is held hostages to the guys/gals across the aisle, and, world events over which he has no influence: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Central Africa, and the Ukraine, any of which could explode into a cataclysmic event.

A little simpler in Albany, although the governor requires both houses of the legislature to buy into his spending – tax-cutting agenda, he has been extraordinarily successful in fending off political adversaries.

In City Hall it is the mayor, and the mayor alone, who sets the stage, and, education at the center.

Whoever thought that 4-year olds would dominate the airways and cyber world? The mayor needs Albany to approve a millionaire tax to fund Universal PreK (UPK -all day in all schools) and the governor’s budget does not address a tax increase, it pays for some of the costs, for one year. Under New York State law local tax increases require local approval plus inclusion in the state budget; the headline writers are pumping up a deB v.Cuomo battle over UPK. The state budget will be resolved shortly before the April 1 deadline with intense down to the wire negotiations. The UPK plan, whether the deB plan or the Cuomo plan or some combination is enormously complex, with many, many moving parts – will deB avert an Affordable Care Act meltdown?

The absence of labor contracts for 300,000 city employees – contracts that expired three and four years ago potentially will eat up projected city surpluses and could embed deficits down the road. The unions want full back pay as well as a substantial raise, the mayor, correctly silent, acknowledges the gravity of the problem. Union members have high expectations, and in spite the universal labor support deB will push for “productivity savings,” creative ways to both satisfy unions and reduce costs going forward – with a ticking clock. If no contracts are approved by the end of the school year tempers will fray with more and more references to David Dinkins one-term mayoralty. Would teachers be willing to “trade” dollars for better working conditions? The answer: it depends.

The mayor clearly has a problem with the co-location of charter schools in public school buildings. In the waning days of the Bloomberg years the central board, the Panel for Educational Priorities, PEP, approved many co-locations (see list here). Will deB and Farina reverse the decisions? If they do Eva, the NY Post and the Manhattan Institute will compare deB to Iosif Dzhugashvili and reserve a place for him in the Nineth Circle.

The clumsy, overly complex principal-teacher evaluation plan is part of the upcoming union negotiations, and, an opportunity to simplify the plan, whatever is negotiated requires the approval of Commissioner King.

To date the mayor has been impressive before the public, shoveling snow off his walkway, admitting he could have done better in the recent snow storm, testifying in Albany, he has a firm grasp of the issues, deftly avoids pitfalls and stays on message. New Yorkers, the vast percent of whom voted for him, are getting to know him.

I worked with a principal who, in my judgment was an effective leader. He walked the halls a period or two every day, greeting kids, ducking into classrooms and asking kids a question or two, shooting a few hoops in the gymnasium, explain to teachers why their lesson or their behavior was lacking, writing nice notes of commendation, and an occasional counseling memo memorializing unacceptable conduct. And, of course, he had an open door, he was accessible to all. He was a leader.

deB seems to be in the same mold. You could probably argue with him over whether the Knicks would be better if Melo had more assists, or not, and, he’d have an opinion. Bloomberg would, of course, be cluesless.

Will we feel the same way next fall? Or, will the early days of seduction and allure be soured?

Parent Engagement versus Parent Empowerment: A Clash of Ideologies: To What Extent Should Parents “Sit At the Table”?

In her introductory speech, Carmen Farina, the new chancellor highlighted parent engagement as her highest priority. For the last twelve years the mayor and the Department of Education has had an “approach/avoidance” conflict, both touting and discouraging parent involvement.

While the education bureaucracy has been spouting parent engagement rhetoric they have pushed back against parent empowerment. The differences are crucial.

New York State law and regulation require the establishment of School Leadership Teams (SLT) in every school, and requires that the team members, parents, teachers and the principals engage in the setting of school policy including the school budget

Section 2590h of New York State law states,

school based management teams … shall possess the following powers and duties:

(i) develop an annual school comprehensive educational plan and
consult on the school-based budget … Such school comprehensive educational plan shall be developed concurrently with the development of the
school-based budget so that it may inform the decision-making process
and result in the alignment of the comprehensive educational plan and
the school-based budget for the ensuing school year.

Part 100.11 of NYS Department of Education regulations,

By February 1, 1994, each public school district board of education … shall develop and adopt a district plan for the participation by teachers and parents with administrators and school board members in school-based planning and shared decision-making.

The New York City Department of Education embedded the state law and state regulations in Chancellor Regulation A-655.

In the real world the Department has done everything possible to avoid empowering parents. Only a handful of districts actually include parents in the decision-making process and the central board has ignored the absence of SLTs. In 2002 Community School Boards were replaced by Community Education Councils (CEC), councils with no power and no support. Many of the CECs have vacancies, why attend monthly meetings when the councils have no authority?

School Leadership Teams (SLT) required by law and regulation only actively exists in schools with middle class parent bodies. de Blasio and Farina come from District 15, Brownstone Brooklyn, one of the few areas with active parent engagement.

As Anne T. Henderson of the Annenberg Institute tells us, “random acts of parent engagement,” aka a single parent meeting, an open school night, a flyer, is not a parent engagement program.

The Department maintains a Division of Family and Parent Engagement – not empowerment, engagement. While the web site is impressive the “on the ground” program is absent. Each superintendent’s office has a parent advocate who works for the Department. A complaint or an inquiry is shunted back to the school, the source of the complaint or the lack of information.

The Comprehensive Education Plan (CEP), in theory the school-based plan to drive the instructional program is simply a compliance activity.

The philosophy of the current administration in Washington and the former administration in NYC is that all decisions should be made at the top and stakeholders should be “brought along,” not included in the policy formation and implementation. The current NYS Commissioner of Education is a prime example. The major initiatives, the adoption of the Common Core, the Principal-Teacher Evaluation Plan (APPR) and the formation of a data dashboard, a repository of student information (In Bloom) has been imposed with minimum meaningful stakeholder participation. The pushback around the state by parents has not resulted in any “backing away” from the policies; the “fault” is with the parent bodies who are described as “special interests” or who simply don’t understand the initiatives.

There is a rich literature pointing to effective parent involvement programs, see Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp,
Beyond the Bake Sale: How School Districts Can Promote Family Involvement (2010), Anne T. Henderson, Building Local Leadership for Change: A National Scan of Parent Leadership Training Programs, and Testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, April 22, 2010.

Under the pre Bloomberg-Klein administration parents and teachers served on a committee that selected and interviewed supervisory candidates and made recommendations to the superintendent. The committee members had to participate in a training program run by the district. In my former district I worked with the district to create the training program. We explained how to analyze school student achievement data and how to create scenarios and questions around the use of the data. We asked the prospective committee members to identify the most crucial areas of concern in their schools, how did they know these were the areas of concern? We discussed the qualities of an effective school leader, and, agreed upon a series of questions and a scoring rubric. The teachers and parents who participated in the process spent a few hours in a facilitated discussion about their school. The interview process was a learning process for both the interviewee and the interviewers.

As the SLT process evolved my school district ran, and repeated again and again, a six-session course on school-based budgeting. The course was offered at 9:30 am, at 3:30 pm and 7:00 pm to facilitate the schedules of all members of school teams.

The culture of schools began to change, rather than bake sales parents began to serve as partners, it was not easy, there were many bumps along the road, parents and staff began to feel comfortable sitting at the same table. The last twelve years has seen the marginalization of parents – they have been once again, in New York City, relegated to the raisers of money for schools with no role to play in setting school policies.

William Ouchi, in Making Schools Work (2003), writes,

The culture of traditional school operations is geared to a subservient “Daddy-may-I” form of operation, and culture is a most difficult social phenomena to change.

Education elites are sophisticated in ways of retaining power and authority, and parents will need political allies in positions above the elites, such as governors and legislators, to create Ouchi’s revolution. Making Schools Work recognizes the need for an attack on the education establishment from two directions. “[C]hange should be initiated bottom-up and supported top-down.”

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, the UFT Parent Support Program are all programs outside of the Department that support parents “from the bottom up.”

The wide range of parent advocacy organizations also work with parents to assist them as active players in the realm of local politics; visits to offices of local elected officials, bus rides to Albany, parents are a voice. Senator John Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee has introduced a range of billsthat support parent ire over the use of student data.

Will the mayor appoint parent leaders to the Panel on Educational Policy (PEP), the Board of Education in New York City? Will local Community Educational Councils (CECs) have an increased role in the formulation of local policy decisions? Will SLTs be reinvigorated? What will be the role of parents in co-location decisions?

As the days merge into weeks and months we are anxious to see if the new administration’s words are matched by deeds.