Tag Archives: Governor Cuomo

The Budget Season: The Governor and the Legislature Work to Craft a Budget Before the April 1 Deadline (with lots of horse-trading)

Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made, Otto Von Bismarck

The first week in January the 213 members of the New York State legislature trekked to Albany for the beginning of the new term: 213 angry members.  Angry because they have not received a raise since 1999 – eighteen years without a raise. While the legislature is a full time job there are no prohibitions on outside employment. Many members are full time others have law or real estate practices; the salary is $78.500 plus per diems for each day in session and additional salary for committee chairmanships. The governor argued for strict limits on outside income and strict ethics reforms, the Republicans opposed income limits and both houses had doubts about the proposed ethics rules. At the last moment the governor walked away from the talks: no raises for the next two years.

Early in the morning on April 1, very early, as the sun rises in the east the legislature will complete passing the budget bills. Under the arcane budget rules the budget bills can contain policies that have nothing to do with the budget. Welcome to what was once called Baghdad on the Hudson were everyone was for sale!

Over the next three weeks legislators time in Albany will increase, lobbyists will huddle with legislators, citizens will descend on Albany to advocate for their causes. Receptions will be held, e-mailboxes will overflow every day with constituent appeals, fax machines will hum all day.

Hanging over the entire process, the elephant in the room is actually down I-95 in DC. How will federal legislation impact the Affordable Care Act (“repeal and replace” for New York State residents)? How will legislation impact Medicaid? New York State may be faced with drastic cuts to healthcare services and/or having to find billions of dollars. The decisions in Washington are months away and the legislature may have to return to Albany later in the year.

With hovering storm cloud the state will hammer out a budget:

A major education issue:

Will the budget fully restore the dollars required to fulfill the CFE lawsuit?

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) in two detailed policy papers, “Too Many Children Still Waiting: Making Quality Early Learning a Top Priority in the 2017 Budget ” and  “Alternative Facts and Historical Fiction: Fact Checking Governor Cuomo on School Aid” explain the funding issues in detail

The Assembly, primarily representing urban areas fully supports the reports referenced above. The Senate, primarily representing suburban and rural areas wants to assure that the areas they represent will retain current funding levels and additional future funding. About two/thirds of education dollars are generated by property taxes, with increases limited to 2% or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. High income districts, high property values equals more dollars for schools, lower income, lower property values, less money for schools. The state formula attempts to equalize funding; however, New York State leads the nation in the disparity of school funding within the state despite the state distributed share.

In budget negotiations everything is linked, in the dim recesses of the Capital agreements will be made, Carl Heastie, John Flanagan and Andrew Cuomo, actually their surrogates, will patch together the agreement,

Folks will be appalled, deals made behind closed doors, they will call for transparency, for sunlight, in my view failing to understand that governments, from 5th BC century Athenian democracy to Albany in 2017 is made up of governments that reflect the governed. When compromise is not possible, when rigid ideology rules, as we find in Washington, the result is gridlock, the absence of legislation; in Albany, in spite progressive democrats and tea party republicans, compromises are achieved.

James Madison, in Federalist Paper # 51 reminds us,

 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.

Some in both houses, angry over the failure of the governor to support a salary increases are threatening not to have a timely budget, probably a baseless threat.

Another education issue:

Will the governor support, oppose or ignore bills to create charter school transparency? (Read bill here)

In 2014 the state teacher union made no endorsement for governor and a number of locals endorsed Cuomo’s opponent in the democratic primary. In the next budget cycle the governor was kind to charter schools, increased the probationary period for teachers and verbally assaulted teachers and their union, The union (NYSUT) responded with TV commercials, the governor’s favorability rating slumped.  In December, 2015, after months of quiet diplomacy a Cuomo-appointed task force report included a moratorium on the use of test scores to assess teachers. (Read the report with the twenty recommendations here)

Some teachers ask me: how can you “trust” Cuomo?

Cuomo is the governor, and will undoubted be better for education and teachers than a Republican governor.

Trust is not the issue: sometimes interests align, sometimes they don’t. Coalitions are formed around an issue and fade away afterwards. I file grievances against my superintendent and work with him to seek funding for a project. We agree to disagree.

In 2009 the UFT, the New York City teacher union “went to war” with Mayor Bloomberg, knowing that no contract would be negotiated for at least four years, and also knowing that the mayor was term-limited and the City Council was on the union side. The mayor left office tarnished, it was a fight he should have avoided.  “Going to war” with Cuomo is another story, there are no term limits in Albany, and, the governor has extraordinary powers.

For the past year or so the governor has been silent on education, the Cuomo Commission report aligns with policies supported by teachers and  their union, and, the 2016 budget contained considerable education dollars.

As the clock ticks down towards April 1 the governor’s Excelsior Scholarship plan, free tuition in CUNY and SUNY for full time students whose parent earn less than $125,000, will be vigorously debated (See an argument here).

After an Easter-Passover  recess the legislature will return to Albany, two day a week sessions escalating to five days a week before the mid-June adjournment.

Tuesday is Lobby Day for the UFT, under a long-established agreement a union member for each school is released to travel to Albany to lobby for the issue of the day – this year: full implementation of the CTE funding decision.

Back in the day I always took kids on the bus to Albany. I assigned them the task of researching the issue, practice making a presentation, and, the kids led the discussion with the electeds. At the end of each term I handed out a brief student survey (“What did you like best about the class? Why? What did you like least? Why? What could I do differently? Quick! What one thing do remember about the class? Why?)  Kids remembered the trip to Albany and their presentation. (“It made me feel important … like I was making a difference.”)

Colleagues warned me, you get in trouble allowing the kids to make presentation. I thought, can you get in trouble teaching kids to think?

It didn’t work too well for the first teacher “brought up on charges, ” a while ago, 399 BC, Socrates got in trouble,

“Socrates is guilty of crime in refusing to recognize the gods acknowledged by the state, and importing strange divinities of his own; he is further guilty of corrupting the young.”

The penalty; death.

Teacher discipline rules were tough way back in Athens.

According to Churchill, we’ve come a long way,

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

Albany 2017: What Can We Expect from the Governor, the Legislature and the Regents?

In a few weeks Donald Trump will put his hand on a bible and repeat the constitutional oath of office, a month or so later the Senate will confirm Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. Yes, she’s totally unqualified, is totally committed to vouchers, to charter schools and an enemy of public schools. Unfortunately the Senate has 52 Republicans and it is highly unlikely that three Republicans will vote against DeVos.

It is impossible to know how a Trump presidency will impact New York State: drastic cuts in federal entitlement programs, cuts in federal support of Medicaid, a range of possibilities that will adversely effect New York State finances are all possibilities.

With a dark cloud hovering   the Albany legislature convened today.

A coming attraction of the legislative session.

The Assembly and the Senate:

The New York State legislature is off and running, and very unhappy. The issue: the absence of a salary raise. The last raise was at a lame duck special session in December 1998; Governor Pataki offered a salary raise in exchange for the charter school law. Yes, that’s right, a simple “deal” that was supported by Democrats as well as Republicans. The legislature can only vote raises for the incoming legislators. Almost everyone gets reelected, in fact, they are voting raises for themselves.  Legislators will have had twenty years without  a raise; with the increasing turnover in the legislature most of the members have been elected since 1998.

Legislators are paid $79,500 plus per diems for days in Albany plus a stipend for serving as a chair of a committee ranging from $4,000 to $16,000 for the few top committees. The legislature convenes on January 4th, sessions will be held two days a week, increasing in time until the April 1 budget date, and, resume after the Easter-Passover break and adjourn in mid June.

The legislature has extremely low favorability ratings with the public.

Each member maintains an office in their district, with sufficient funding to pay for a small staff.

About 15,000 bills will be introduced in the Assembly, maybe 500 will become law.

The Assembly is led by Carl Heastie, the relatively new Speaker. The Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the 150 member Assembly. The Senate is more complicated, much more complicated. There are 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the 63-member Senate; however, five Democratic members broke away from the other Democrats and formed the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein. The IDC caucuses with the Republicans; John Flanagan, the majority leader of the Senate leads the Senate, although, he requires IDC acquiescence.

The Democratic Assembly members wanted a raise and were willing to give up outside income, the Republican Senate members wanted a raise and were unwilling to give up outside income. The Governor wanted a strict ethics package …. eventually … the talks faded.

Democratic Assembly members who were unhappy with the Governor, now despise him.

They hinted they would not attend the Governor’s State of the State address, the Governor changed the process, five separate addresses across the state with invited guests only. (I sent in my request for an invite – we’ll see)

The Governor:

Governor Cuomo rarely, very rarely gives press conferences; he strictly controls media access and the narrative.

On one hand he chose to attack teachers and their union, to support charter schools, to vindictively punish teachers for the widespread support of Zephyr Teachout, and, to reverse course, dump Merryl Tisch as leader of the Board of Regents as well as Tisch supporters on the Regents, support a moratorium on the use of testing to assess teachers, support substantial increases in state aid; if he hasn’t made 180 degree change in attitudes towards teachers its pretty close to it.

His adoption of the Sanders/Clinton “make colleges free” plan resulted in headlines in the national press.

Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign for reelection in 2018 is off and running with an eye on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2020.

Angry Democrats and/or Republicans could sidetrack an April 1 on time budget embarrassing the Governor.

Remember the political aphorism: when you toss a rock into a pool of feces you never know whose going to be splashed.

The Issues:

State revenues are down, Trump’s policies could reduce federal dollars to New York State or more likely shift budgetary responsibilities from the feds to the state.

With budgetary woes hovering can the state afford to begin to implement the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) judicial decision?

Will the state continue to increase state aid to school districts at the rate of the last few years?

If the legislature does not agree to an April 1 budget the Governor can opt to fund the state through the continuing resolution process, unwieldy,; however, Governor Patterson used the process to bypass the legislature.

The Cuomo apotheosis: The Governor is far more in sync with the current leadership of the Board of Regents. The December 2015 Cuomo Commission Task Force Report set out a roadmap and slowly the Regents are moving to implement the recommendations.

The elephant in the room are the over 200,000 opt out parents. The state tests later this spring will continue to be three days for English Language Arts (ELA) and three days for mathematics. The evolution to computer-based testing and the problems with lack of computer hardware and band width could lengthen the testing period. The Regents are in the midst of building a new accountability plan for the state could move from proficiency (a single score) to growth (a comparison of last year to this year), or, begin to experiment with alternatives, such as performance tasks, portfolios, that are referred to as authentic assessments.

The Regents have been flirting with a big question: high school diploma requirements.

Do the current high school diploma requirements prepare students for the world of work and post secondary education?

Should we revert to a lesser or specialized diploma for students with disabilities?

Should recent immigrants have to meet the same requirements as all other students?

Why are Career and Technical Education, (CTE) programs, formerly known as Vocational Education declining across most of the state?  Are state policies and regulations too complicated? antiquated? Can/Should the state directly intervene to create more CTE schools/programs?

Are we adequately preparing prospective teachers?  Why has the enrollment in college teacher preparation programs dropped so precipitously?  Can the state both uncomplicate and bring coherence to teacher preparation programs?

New York State leads the nation in the inequality of school funding. Richer, higher tax school districts spend  far more dollars per student than poorer, low tax districts. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. About 80% of education dollars come from local property taxes, state aid from Albany is distributed in a fairer manner; however the variation in per capita funding remains immense. Should the Regents propose a major revision in school funding?  A political land mine!!!

Will the Assembly, the Senate, the Governor and the Board of Regents dance together, or, will the dark clouds hovering over the nation’s capital move East?

A nineteenth century political wag wrote, “No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State legislature is in session.”

Maybe a little too pessimistic,  the agenda is full, and I am cautiously hopeful.

Assessing What Teachers Teach and What Students Learn: Creating Authentic Assessments for Students and Teachers

Student waiving his hand in the air enthusiastically, “Teacher, teacher, is it on the test?”

These days the answer is, “I have no idea.”

The current Common Core grades 3-8 tests are not content-based they are standards-based, they “test” the ability to identify skills-acquisition; content, curriculum, has fallen by the wayside.

See two 9th grade Social Studies Standards below:

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

I have no objection; the standards are perfectly reasonable and I would expect that teachers would address the standard in their lessons.  Testing companies, in New York State Questarai, creates test items that measure the ability to exhibit knowledge of  the standards; there are no New York State created curricula.

Standards are not new, we have had standards for decades. For a period in the nineties teachers had to include standards in each lesson plan. After the topic and the aim we were required to write three SWBATs (Students Will Be Able To)  standards related to the specific lesson. In many schools anything displayed in classrooms or hallway walls had to include the specific standard.

Standards are abstract and not related to content. New York State does provide curriculum modules on the open source Engage NY website. See an example of a Ninth Grade ELA Curriculum Module here. These are not required, they are detailed and the claim is that they are aligned to the Common Core and school districts frequently adopt the Engage NY modules.

School districts rarely have the ability to create their own curricula, they simply “adopt” the Engage NY so-called curriculum modules.

The state did spent years working on and finally released Social Studies Frameworks, close to a curriculum,

This Framework integrates existing New York State Learning Standards and the New York State Core Curriculum for Social Studies into a single, three-part document. It is intended to serve as a guide for local districts in developing their Social Studies curricula.

The state makes it clear, developing curricula is the responsibility of the local district.

The math side of the Common Core State Standards are far closer to what we would call a curriculum – see an example: the Second Grade Mathematics curriculum module.

Sol Stern, in the current issue of City Journal, is sharply critical of the absence of a “coherent, grade by grade curriculum,”

“The existing K-12 school system (including most charters and private schools) has been transformed into a knowledge-free zone. It is now producing the ‘dumbest generation’ ever …. digital-age social media stupefies young Americans and makes them less interested in serious reading than any previous generation. Add in the education establishment’s refusal to teach knowledge in the classroom and the result becomes a toxic mix of intellectual apathy and ignorance.”

Stern asks, “Will conservatives at long last begin working to restore a knowledge-based curriculum?”

No Sol, if  you define conservatives as the Betsy DeVos acolytes they will be focused on choice, and leave decisions to the Local Education Authority (LEA), including creationism as an alternative theory.

Governor Cuomo, to his credit, has suspended the use of the grades 3-8 state tests to evaluate teachers, the Board of Regents adopted a four-year moratorium.

Summative assessments, the six-day April/May state tests or the end of the term Regents Exams are not the best way to assess students or teachers. As we know school districts, schools and teachers coach students to pass tests, the test is the ultimate determinant of teacher and student performance.

In New York State teachers are currently assessed by a combination of principal observations and a locally negotiated Measurement of Student Learning (MOSL); during the moratorium  state test scores are not part off the teacher assessment process.

The United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education, after many months of negotiations, finally agreed to a Annual Personnel Performance Review (APPR), the principal/teacher assessment metric.. See a summary of the plan here.

The new  APPR agreement makes major strides towards assessing what a teacher actually teaches,

* Project Based Learning assessment, students final assessment is at least partly composed of work the student has developed over time in  conjunction with a specific project based on a learning unit.

* Student Learning Inventories, collections of student work that will include both Department of Education  developed components as well as classroom artifacts that capture student growth.

Major steps to an authentic assessment system – assessing what teachers teach and students learn.

The Secretary of Education nominee appears centered on providing opportunities for choice, and we can expect battles over Title 1 funding and a range of other contentious issues.  The new law, ESSA, does “reserve for the states,” a wide range of education decision-making.

The New York City APPR agreement may provide a path for the state in the creation of the plan that the feds require of each state: authentic assessments.

Schadenfreude: Cuomo, de Blasio, Machiavelli and the Turbulent World of New York State Politics

When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F. Kennedy

The Germans have a wonderful word: schadenfreude – taking pleasure in other people’s misfortunes.

Preet Bahara, the US Attorney for the Southern District is the most powerful person in New York State, for some the archangel bringing truth and justice to political maelstrom, to others, collecting scalps on his belt to burnish his own reputation.

For psychologists Andrew Cuomo is a fascinating study: Is he spending his life trying to fulfill his father’s dream – the highest office in the land? The honey-tongued elder Cuomo hypnotized the 1984 Democratic National Convention with his “Tale of Two Cities” keynote address (watch U-Tube here). In December, 1991 everyone knew that Mario was about to launch his presidential campaign – the plane was warming up on the runway, Cuomo was about to fly off to New Hampshire for the first in the nation primary, unexpectedly, he withdrew, never giving a coherent reason.

Son Andrew followed his father’s career, serving his second term as governor, at times acerbic, a very effective political street fighter. He tiptoes between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, avoids ethics reforms, supported the “Fight for Fifteen,” failed to support the Dream Act legislation, went to war with the teacher’s union, and, backed off and pushed out  Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch. Every move carefully calculated for the run to the White House his father abjured.

Cuomo’s hatchet man, alter ego and a boyhood friend is Joe Percoco. His father called Percoco his “other son.” Percoco was the gatekeeper, whatever the issue, whatever the piece of legislation, you went to Joe. His title changed, his role never changed.

The leader of the Democratic Party was Andrew Cuomo. The election of the left-leaning progressive Bill de Blasio changed nothing and Cuomo immediately made it clear – he was the noble in the castle and de Blasio had to pay homage, or, face the consequences.

Every opportunity he got Cuomo made it clear – he was the liberal, the progressive, not de Blasio. Whether or not another Democrat runs against de Blasio a year from now is yet to be decided, Cuomo was not backing de Blasio, at best staying on the sidelines, maybe throwing support to an opponent.

8 AM, Thursday morning everything changed,  Percoco was arrested, along eight others and charged with a litany of crimes – basically accepting dollars for favors connected with the Buffalo Billions, a Cuomo favored project to revive upstate. The Buffalo Billion was at the core of the Cuomo resume – if he could revive Buffalo, revive upstate New York, he could do the same for the rust belts across the nation

There was joy in de Blasioville as the Mighty Andrew struck out (Excuse  me- I couldn’t resist – it’s the culmination of the baseball season).

A few hours later the joy ebbed. Scott Stringer, the popular Comptroller of New York City was the keynote speaker at the ABNY (Association for a Better New York) breakfast. The ABNY breakfast is an annual affair attended by elites in the city: from the business side, the labor side, everyone attends the ABNY breakfast. Stringer gave a speech that was close as one can get to an announcement that he’s a mayoral candidate. Stringer laid out his economic vision for the city, a speech one would expect to come from the mayor. He followed up the speech with an appearance on popular WNYC Brian Lehrer program.

de Blasio’s approval ratings are abysmal a year before the Democratic mayoral primary,

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approval rating remains close to a record low as half the city’s voters say he doesn’t deserve re-election in 2017, a Quinnipiac University poll found.

De Blasio’s approval rating is 42 percent, little changed from a May 24 survey that showed support of 41 percent, his lowest since he took office Jan. 1, 2014. In the poll released Monday, 51 percent disapprove of the Democratic mayor’s performance and 50 percent say he doesn’t deserve a second term.

If Stringer, or Public Advocate Letitia James or Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams chooses to challenge de Blasio they could not run for second terms in their current offices. High risk, high reward.

Republicans are sharpening their political knives – a weakened governor and a chance to keep up the attack and seize the governorship in 2018. A very popular Democratic Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, waiting in the wings in case Cuomo does not run, or, becomes so unpopular that he’s vulnerable to a Democratic challenger.  The Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, might find that a damaged governor needs friends, really needs friends. The arrogant lord of the Albany manor might not be as arrogant as the vultures begin to circle. Yes, lots of “mights,” politics is far from an exact science.

While de Blasio’s polling numbers; clearly beaten down with the assistance of the governor, might not be accurately reflected in the polls, minorities: Afro-American, Asian and Latino are a majority in voters in New York City.  de Blasio hosted an education forum in Canarsie Thursday night, a full house. Canarsie is a neighborhood of private homes, a middle class neighborhood with an Afro-American population, primarily of Caribbean descent. The mayor was well-received, the Department of Education upper echelons answered questions, the mayor chimed in, lots of applause; the mayor was at home. While Staten Island and the Upper West Side might deride the de Blasio mayoralty the majority of voters, the numerous ethnic communities might be firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Rumor has it there is a dog-eared copy of The Prince on the governor’s nightstand with the followed phrases highlighted.

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” 

“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared...”


“I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.”

“…he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.” 

“A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.”

Maybe Andrew’s been reading the wrong book, or underlining the wrong sections.

The New, Feisty Board of Regents Explores Principal Preparation: Why Don’t We Have Better Principals?

[Election Update: Yuh Line Niou won the six-way primary in Shelly Silver’s former district as well as all other Ed in the Apple endorsed candidates with the exception of Robert Jackson; however, the Bloomberg/Charter candidate, Micah Lasher lost to a candidate supported by the Independent Democratic Coalition – the breakaway gang of five that caucuses with the Republicans]

The new Board of Regents is a feisty group!!

The Board is a policy board; they hire the CEO, the commissioner, and set overall policy for the state. The line between what is policy and what are operations is a blurred line: a prime example.

In December the Regents voted to accept the 21 recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force on the Common Core.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized test aligned to the standards.

A month later the Department announced a shift to untimed tests;  the “formal review” apparently did not involve the Board.

Initially the Commissioner was ecstatic over the unparalleled one year jump in test scores, until the Chancellor, Betty Rosa tuned down the exuberance.  Without knowing which students took extended time the state has set a new baseline, there can be no valid comparisons – you cannot compare apples to oranges. The Regents members were clearly unhappy – why weren’t they involved in the “formal review?”

Under the leadership of Chancellor Tisch and John King, with a few exceptions, the Board was quiescent.

The current members are activists, in order to create policy they clearly intend to take a deep dive into the issue. A prime example: the four exams required for teacher certification. The co-chairs of the Higher Education Committee have held forums all over the state, hundreds of college staff, and degree seekers, have attended and testified. The Board is leading the steps to reconfigure the teacher preparation process that was imposed by Tisch/King.

No longer does the Chancellor and the Commissioner run the show. Chancellor Rosa epitomizes collaborating with her Regent partners.

The September 12th Regents Meeting began with a detailed exploration of a new grant from the Wallace Foundation:  the Principal Preparation Project. In prior years the project would have landed with the Regents Research Fellows with a nary a word of discussion with the Regents members. The world has changed.

After a Power Point presentation the new Board peppered the Deputy Commissioner with questions;

Regent Johnson mused over the purpose of the project.  We must acknowledge the impact of poverty, issues of race and changing demographics. Why weren’t Civil Rights organizations on the team? Regent Mead was concerned over the three years of teaching as a minimum requirement – New York City has a seven year requirement. Regent Norwood was wondering why social/emotional issues appeared absent from the project as well as working in diverse environments, and, the retention of leaders in low performing schools were absent. Regent Brown was concerned with the absence of diversity concerns in the project, should issues of race, i. e., “white privilege” and “cultural competency,” be included in project curriculum?

The discussion went on and on….

In order to become a principal in New York State the applicant must complete an “approved” program; however, the selection is by the elected lay school board, or, in New York City, by the Chancellor; all the state does is create an applicant pool.

A little history:

The first wave of reform swept the nation after the Civil War and culminated in the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 – establishing a federal civil service system. The reform movement moved to the states, and, after the creation of New York City (“The Great Consolidation”), the merging of the five boroughs, the legislature moved to reform a political hiring system, by creating a Board of Examiners.

Read a history of principal selection here: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/the-quest-for-the-leadership-gene-how-do-we-findselect-the-best-school-leaders/

From rigorous examinations to a handful of credits and selection by elected Community School Boards to the Leadership Academy, we haven’t found any magic bullets.

Half-jokingly, I mused that maybe there was a leadership gene. Maybe I’m right!

… a quarter of the observed variation in leadership behaviour between individuals can be explained by genes passed down from their parents. – See more at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0113/15012013-leadership-genetics#sthash.Nmnip8lR.dpuf

If you ask teachers about supervisor competence you will find a wide variability, some praise school leaders, many more are critical.  An NYU Study a few years ago, using student scores on state exams as a measurement: insignificant differences between Leadership Academy and non-Leadership Academy principals.

I have a few questions:

* What percentages of applicants are accepted into leadership programs? Is the quality of the applicant’s teaching part of the applicant selection process, and, if so, how do you measure the quality? (I fear programs accept the vast percentage of applicants)

* Are online or blended learning courses acceptable? Are these courses of the same quality as face-to-face courses?

* How often does the supervising teacher visit the candidate? Four times a year? Weekly? What is the quality of the internship? How is it measured?

* What percentage of candidates find jobs within five years? How successful are the candidates as supervisors and how do we measure success?

The finest leadership I have seen is the leadership provided by coaches, whether athletic, music or dance.

The ultimate question: is this project worthwhile?  Since the state does not hire or supervise principals can changing the requirements actually change who gets hired?  Do we have to change the “hirers” before we can change the “hirees”?

Looking ahead: every state must comply with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and design a state plan -more about the process in my next post.

The Politicization of State Tests: Creating Tests in Which “All Students in New York State Are Above Average”

When the dust cleared the greatest ally to the anti-testing clique was (roll of drums!!!)  MaryEllen Elia, the New York State Commissioner of Education.

The deeply flawed state tests (“All children are above average”) reignited the argument – why do we have state test at all (aside from the federal requirements)?

Statewide ELA test scores jumped by around 7% – although the racial achievement gap remained the same.

A magic potion, incompetence or simply political legerdemain?

A little review: in September, 2015 Governor Cuomo reconvened a blue ribbon panel, actually a process to repair the Governor’s foolhardy attacks on teachers and parents. In 2014 it appeared that Cuomo had a clear path the Democratic nomination for his second term and deep pockets for the November general election. Seemingly out of nowhere Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham challenged Cuomo for the Working Families Party spot on the ballot and challenged Cuomo in the Democratic primary. While the teacher union made no endorsement some members and locals were on the Teachout side. After defeating Teachout and Rob Astorino, his Republican challenger Cuomo decided to punish teachers. He cozied up to the charter school folks, used the budgeting process to tack on legislation to extend teacher probation, and, was nastier than usual.  NYSUT, the statewide teacher union responded with a series of aggressive TV ads and the opt-out movement was created, 20% of kids opted-out of the 2015 state tests.

Cuomo’s popularity rating tumbled.

I suspect clearer heads prevailed.

The purpose of the Task Force was to guide education policy from afar and place the Board of Regents and the commissioner in the foreground. The recommendations were more than recommendations; they were a pathway for state education policy. (Cuomo: This is the endgame – you figure us out how to get us there)

The Task Force Report (Read here), which was released in December, contained twenty-one recommendations, the last recommendation was a moratorium on the use of state tests to evaluate principals and teachers for four years, applauded by the teacher union.  The recommendations called for a thorough review of the Common Core Standards and teachers would be included in every step of the process.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new Standardized tests aligned to the standards; not controversial, garnered little,  if any discussion; perhaps a pilot in a few schools and school districts across the state.

Surprisingly, very surprisingly, without any discussion with the Board of Regents, the Commissioner announced that the 2016 state tests would be untimed.

The January announcement, entitled “Changes for the 2016 Grades 3-8 ELA and Mathematics Tests” begins,

This memo outlines changes made as a result of feedback from the field:

* Greater involvement of educators in the test development process

* Decrease in the number of test questions, and

* A shift to untimed testing

The announcement came from Angela Infante, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Instructional Support and Peter Swerdewski, Assistant Commissioner, Office of State Assessment.

The state document states, “…students will be provided with as much time as they need.” No pilot, no transition, jumping off the diving board into the pool, and, the state made no attempt to identify students who took additional time.

The scores soared, the state commissioner, in the Daily News admits the scores are “not exactly a perfect comparison,”

After widespread opposition to the difficulty of the tests erupted in 2015, state education department officials shortened the exams for 2016 and eliminated time limits.

“Because of the changes in testing, it’s not exactly a perfect comparison,” Elia said. “And even with the increases this year, there remains much work to be done.”

The state spent many millions of dollars purchasing tests, teachers and students months of test prep, to collect data from what turns out to be a non-standardized test. A test that might not even meet federal requirements, although I’m sure the feds will simply ignore the faux jump in scores.

Was the test itself “harder” or “easier;” many months down the road a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) will release a report, hundreds of pages of dense analysis that few will read and fewer will understand.

The basic questions: are the results of the test useful?  Can they be compared with the previous year? Can schools and school districts be compared? And, at the top of the list: are the schools in New York State making academic progress?

Howard Wainer, a Distinguished Research Scientist, the author of innumerable books and articles, an internationally recognized expert writes,

Because of the changes this year’s scores can’t be compared to last year’s and because of the untimed nature of the test (and there being no record of how long anyone took) you can’t compare scores of students who took it this year with one another. It is, in no uncertain terms, an unstandardized test.

This test is akin to measuring children’s heights but allowing some students, we don’t know who, to stand on a stool, we don’t know how high, and then declaring some taller than others.

Fred Smith, another testing expert, writing in City Limits, had doubts about the validity of the test before the test administration.

Either the state education psychometrician is lacking in competence, or knew by adopting untimed tests scores would likely jump – either is unacceptable.

If the state continues down the same path, retaining the untimed tests, even if it keeps track of students who take extra time, and the amount of extra time, we will be once again be comparing apples to oranges. Kids who take extra time or choose not to take extra time may not be the same kids as this year – we simply can’t know.

Will states across the nation also jump on the untimed tests bandwagon?

In the politicized world of education the charter school folk and their acolytes beamed at higher scores, of course, we have no way of knowing why charter school scores were generally higher than public schools, and, the pro-charter print media crowed. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina also took a victory lap, and the Mayor immediately claimed the scores were proof that mayoral control be made permanent.

Board of Regents Chancellor Rosa reminded us it’s not time for a victory lap, unfortunately everyone else is milking the results – de Blasio and Farina, the charters and principals and teachers are breathing a sigh of relief.

A perverse kind of victimless crime: except for the kids who were tortured preparing for a non-standardized test.

Although the law has changed, No Child Left Behind has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act; the requirement for annual testing in grades 3-8 remains. The Leadership Conference is an umbrella group representing the major civil rights organizations across the spectrum has strongly supported the accountability requirements, aka, testing and reporting scores by subgroup, and, the law is not changing.

Testing is here to stay.

The US Department of Education has announced they will be selecting six or so states or consortiums of states to play with alternate assessments.

The anti-testing crowd points to the new law and the testing kerfuffle in New York State, why not move to portfolios and performance tasks to current replace testing? This is not a new idea.

Vermont spent a decade working to create an assessment system based on portfolios, and after an external report pointed to fatal flaws, abandoned the effort.

…report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low. The researchers urged the state to release the assessment results only at the state level.

Daniel M. Koretz, a senior social scientist at RAND and the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

Can thousands of teachers be expected to rate portfolios the same?

The portfolio process was expensive, extremely time consuming  and there is no guarantee the portfolio work was not “assisted” by parents or others .

Yes, portfolios and performance tasks are effective classroom tools and in the perfect world might be a way of assessing student progress, in the real world, the world in which we live, it is not reasonable to expect inter-rater reliability.

The anti-testing movement will not disappear and the opt-out movement is alive.

What is absent is leadership – Arne Duncan drove us down a path for seven years that divided education: reformers versus deformers, marketeers versus public schools, unions versus the hedge funders: education is bitterly divided. Will the next president nominate an education leader who can bring together the disparate constituencies?

Education is adrift and the unstandardized testing regimen in New York State is a prime example.

The New York State Legislature Adjourns with a “Whimper,”as Educational Policy-Making Moves to the Board of Regents

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

The last stanza of Eliot’s poem is an apt description of the end of the 2016 legislative session. The final days, called “the Big Ugly,” is a scramble, an endgame, the Republicans and the Democrats vying for an advantage as the state moves toward the November election. All the seats in the legislature, the 150 in the Assembly and the 63 in the Senate will be on the ballot. While the Assembly is firmly in the Democratic column the Senate is far more complex, and byzantine. The Democrats hold a single seat edge in the Senate (32-31); however five Democrats (Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, Tony Avella, David Valesky, and David Carlucci), the Independent Democrat Conference (IDF), under the leadership of Klein (Bronx) caucuses with the Republicans, giving the Republicans control of the Senate.

Hanging in the balance were mayoral control, campaign finance reform, removal of pensions for convicted legislators, online fantasy sports betting and scores of other bills.

You may ask: why is all this conflict and wheeling and dealing necessary? Why can’t legislators have civil conversations and decide the issues?

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

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

The Constitutional Convention (1787) was not covered in CSPAN; the Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting. The only notes we have are Madison’s personal notes, not made public until after the death of all the delegates, The fifty-three delegates argued, came and went, delivered lengthy speeches, met in private, and made deals.

Slavery was one of the most significant stumbling blocks, the anti-slavery Northerners versus the slave-holding South, The compromise: slavery is not mentioned in the constitution, the question of slavery was left to the states, and, as part of a compromise; slaves were counted as 3/5th of a ”free person,” and referred to in the clause as “all other Persons.”

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Deal-making, as reprehensible as it may seem, is at the essence of making government work.

Whether to extend mayoral control in New York City had nothing to do with education. Weakening the mayor might give the Republicans a chance in the 2017 mayoral election. In spite of pleas from Merryl Tisch and others in the upper echelons of power Senate leader John Flanagan offered “unacceptable” plan after plan until in the closing hours an agreement was reached, the NY Times describes the plan as a one year extension plus,,

It would effectively create a parallel system of charter schools within the city, allowing “high-performing charter schools in good standing” to switch to join the State University of New York umbrella or the Board of Regents of the State Education Department.

Probably a meaningless change, currently charters schools authorized by both New York City and Buffalo make reauthorization proposals after five years, the authorizer, SUNY or the Board of Regents can reject the recommendation. The proposal allows the charter school, if it’s  “high performing and in good standing” to move directly to SUNY or the Regents for reauthorization.

The session is most interesting for what it did not do – the houses steered clear of legislation directing the State Education Department to take any actions. A host of education bills simply died. Neither the governor nor the party leaders had any desire to once again get involved in the morass of teacher accountability or testing, any of the issues that birthed the opt outs and/or angered teachers and their unions.

The budget was generous and the political leaders appear to be leaving the educational decisions to the educational leaders.

In December the Cuomo-appointed Task Force released their report with 21-recommendations: a blueprint for the Commissioner and the Board of Regents. The core of the report was a 4-year moratorium on the use of student test scores as part of a metric to assess teacher performance.

In the six months since the release of the report the Commissioner has made tests untimed, a recommendation in the report, established a number of large field-based committees to review elements of the Common Core, and, the Regents created a number of alternative pathways to graduation.

Quietly, very quietly, the Commissioner announced a change in the observation section of the teacher evaluation regulation. The outside observer would be scrapped – what might be a good idea in theory was both overly complex and a financial burden on school districts. There was no high drama – no headlines, simply an announcement undoubtedly based on quiet discussions.

The decisions before the Board of Regents are complex, politically explosive and without explicit answers.

Can you create a teacher evaluation plan that is acceptable to principals and teachers and not trashed by external critics?

Can better tests win back opt out parents?  And, what do you mean by “better tests?”

Will alternatives to testing, perhaps, portfolios or other performance assessments, be acceptable to the feds, and acceptable to the principals and teachers?  Are performance assessments practicable in actual classroom settings?

Will additional alternative pathways to high school graduation make students more or less prepared for college?

The Regents appear to have a window – three or four years – to make decisions based on their expertise as well as respond to external pressures and scrutiny, and, hovering aloft: “disruptive” solutions such as unlimited charter schools or vouchers.

Windows open, and windows close.