Tag Archives: InBloom

The Commissioner King Show Hits the Big Apple: How Will the Apple Respond to the Commissioner’s Pleas?

Every election cycle the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School University sponsors a series of panels: the professionals that led the campaigns for all the candidates in the city-wide races lay out their strategies and discuss what worked, what didn’t, and why.

The bottom line: a single message and a single issue win campaigns. For de Blasio, the “tale of two cities” and the universal pre-kindergarten won the day.

The rollout of the Common Core and the Principal/Teacher Evaluation plans were political campaigns.

Unfortunately the Commissioner chose the wrong path. Remember that day when your mother pushed that tablespoon filled with a foul-smelling liquid up to your lips? “Drink it down, it’s good for you.”

The Common Core, the Principal/Teacher Evaluation Plan, the InBloom data mining plan, all pushed down the throats of parents, teachers, principals and superintendents.

Maybe, just maybe, the Commissioner, like your mother, five or so years down the road will be able to say, “I told you so … always listen to your mother,” or, after one confrontation too many, you moved out of the house.

Back in 2010 I looked at the Social Studies Standards, interesting, a few of the 9/10th grade standards:

Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
• Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
• Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

The problem: the standards were not guidance to teachers – they became the Holy Grail; none of us realized that the Core had been chiseled on stone tablets and passed down to us from Moses.

What was the message?

The “tale of two cities” or gulp down the foul-smelling medicine?

The August release of the state test scores lit a fire under parents throughout the state. The October Poughkeepsie meeting (watch 10-minute U-Tube here) and the response of the Commissioner only added gasoline to the roaring fire,

State Education Commissioner John King said the decision to abruptly “suspend” four public forums on the newly implemented Common Core standards was made because they had been “co-opted by special interests.” … King faced a barrage of sometimes loud and angry criticism from those who spoke at the first meeting, and the remaining four dates were canceled Friday.

In a statement, King said the meeting was disrupted by “special interests whose stated goal is to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

The forums resumed with the same results – hundreds of angry parents raging against the Commissioner the Common Core, testing and the policies emanating out of Albany.

Next week the road show comes to the Big Apple, Tuesday in Brooklyn at Medgar Evers College and Wednesday at a small elementary school in Manhattan (Spruce Street School). Chancellor Merryl Tisch will be in the Bronx also on Tuesday.

I expect little to change.

Speaker after speak will criticize the tests, the New York City support for the Common Core, the lack of appropriate books and materials, the lack of a coherent curriculum, lock step lessons, school closing, etc.

As he announced in Rochester, the Commissioner will lay a list of small proposed changes, King said changes in testing options for special needs students, in Spanish language assessments and the phasing out of dual math exams for accelerated students, are some changes being considered.

Too little too late for the critics around the state.

2014 is an election year. The Assembly, the Senate and the State-wide offices are all on the ballot. The 213 members of the legislature and the governor are not tone deaf. The anger will displace- from the commissioner to the elected officials, and, perhaps, to the governor.

The January State of the State message sets forth the governor’s agenda for the legislative session. The governor can challenge parents and support the agenda of the commissioner, ignore the issue, or, express his displeasure.

James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations (2005) argues, “diverse collections of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts” The hundreds upon hundreds of parents and teachers may make more sense than the experts.

Whether or not the commissioner and the experts or the “diverse collection of independently deciding individuals” are correct, the rollout of the polices was doomed from the start.

There was no clear and coherent message, the message and the implementation were muddled and the continuing approach, “trust us,” only led to increasing distrust.

How do you rescue the policies?

Will a new chancellor in New York City take the side of parents and teachers, or, support the commissioner’s reform agenda?

Will state legislators introduce both introduce legislation and coalesce across parties?

Will the governor exercise the power of the bully pulpit and “suggest” a change of course?

Will the commissioner back away from his hard charging style?

Unfortunately the current skirmishes have eaten up all the air. English language learners have appalling graduation rates as well as scores on state exams. How is the Commissioner responding? Afro-American males continue to stumble, hundreds of small rural districts are on the verge of bankruptcy, and the two percent property tax cap is drying up resources, all enormous problems that the Commissioner does not appear to be adequately addressing.

Welcome to the Big Apple Commissioner…

Mayor de Blasio’s First Challenges: “Low Hanging Fruit” and Substantive Institutional Change

On Tuesday Bill de Blasio will be elected with one of the largest margins in the history of New York City mayoral elections.

The New York Post and the Manhattan Institute will wring their hands and predict the Armageddon. The City Council Progressive Caucus will be touting their “13 Bold Ideas” agenda (Read here).
Average New Yorkers will continue the mundane realities of life – hoping the streets are safe, and clean, that their kids’ schools provide the best education, that they can afford to move to a nicer apartment or house, that their health insurance is adequate and affordable, and, that the new tall guy in Gracie Mansion is one of them not one of the 1%.

A few days after the celebrations end the Mayor-elect will probably appoint a transition team – a combination of former city officials, college professors, think tank gurus, a “highly regarded” group of New Yorkers to pass along their expertise and experience.

Every mayor wants to get off to a running start, to put their stamp on the new administration, to build on the overwhelming victory at the polls. In a few months the surge of adrenalin will wane, the day to day realities of the running Gotham will emerge, de Blasio must seize the early enthusiasm to satisfy his acolytes and pacify his harshest critics.

In the world of education appointing a highly credible chancellor is a first step, and a policy board, the Panel for Educational Policy, in law, the Board of Education, New Yorkers who are well-respected and experienced in setting policy goals and providing a forum to exchange and interact with the public, essential first steps.

Within weeks the mayor can pick the “low hanging fruit,” the easy choices that symbolize that the mayor is on the side of parents and teachers.

* End the ATR (Absent Teacher Reserve) Pool

The ATR Pool is a political contrivance; it had nothing to do with better education. In the just-released NYS teacher evaluation scores 91% were “highly effective” or “effective” and only 1% “ineffective,” the exile of 1200 teachers fated to float weekly from school to school is foolish, a waste of dollars and a policy that has no impact on student achievement. Send the ATRs back to schools, back to classrooms, if some of them are inadequate, take the required actions to dismiss them.

* Process Teachers Under Charges Expeditiously

There are 400 teachers who have been removed from classroom duties who are under investigation pending charges, or. have been charged pending a hearing, or, whose hearings have been completed. The current administration knows that the vast majority of the cases can be resolved short of dismissal. Some charges should be withdrawn; some teachers would end up with a fine or a letter of reprimand. The current contractual procedures, called “a model for the state,” by Commissioner John King, requires a timely process,

In all cases, as delineated in Education Law §3020-a the final hearing shall be completed no later than 60 days from the pre-hearing conference and the written decision must be rendered within 30 days from the final hearing date.

The department, clearly due to Mayor Bloomberg’s derision of the arbitration process has placed obstacle after obstacle in the path of a timely procedure. (Read the contract sections dealing with the 3020a process here) The process should continue as envisioned by the contract timelines. The current Star Chamber proceedings are an abomination.

* Establish a Process to Review the Co-Location Decisions of the PEP Since September, 2013.

Bloomberg has been cramming charter schools and new public schools into existing buildings at an accelerated pace since September. Clearly a political policy to try and embed a philosophy before the new guy is in charge. Many of these placements are poor decisions. The charter school law calls upon charter schools to,

the charter entity is encouraged to give preference to applications that demonstrate the capability to provide comprehensive learning experiences to students identified by the applicants as at risk of academic failure.

In reality the current administration has simply stuffed charter schools into schools without any reference to the needs of the community or without any intent to serve “at risk” students, in fact, the opposite is commonplace.

* Direct the new chancellor and the new PEP to explore limiting the number required “standardized” tests.

The requirement that kindergarten students need to take a “standardized test” is absurd. While the department and the union may be working out a resolution the new mayor should direct his appointees to engage with the state to seek ways to reduce the amount of testing across all grades.

* Withdraw from the InBloom student data collection system.

New York State is the only state that is now fully participating in the collection of an enormous amount of student data and turning the data over to a national not-for-profit (formerly a Murdoch subsidiary) to allow third party providers to create applications, there is a serious privacy issue. (See InBloom’s defense hereand critic’s response here). The New York City School District should withdraw from InBloom.

* Negotiate a Successor Teacher Contract

The next contract, “low fruit”? Actually, yes.

Both the unions and the mayor want to remove a sharp thorn that will press deeply in the flesh until it is removed. How do you find a path to both a percentage increase, four years of retroactive dollars, sharply accelerating city health plan costs and the myriad details of contracts? While I have absolutely no participation in the negotiations in the past retroactive dollars were paid as “non-pensionable” cash payouts and spread out over a couple of budgets.

If the contracts negotiations drag out over too many months the relationship between the union and the mayor will erode – a “lose-lose” for the union and the mayor, a resolution in a matter of months, a “win-win.”

The deeper and far more complex problem is creating a school system that serves the needs of the million plus kids – a school system that encompasses families and communities – a different vision. Yes, we measure graduation rates and standardized test scores, the larger issue is combining education and working to break the chains of generational poverty.

There are no models – Chicago and Los Angeles are deeply involved in conflicts, teachers and communities fighting the establishment, Philadelphia is in a meltdown; Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester achievement is at the bottom of the state.

de Blasio can simply pacify/satisfy teachers and communities, or, search for a model that both addresses education and societal dysfunctions.

The last four mayors limped away with wounded reputations and a polarized city. Can de Blasio blend the needs of the 99% with the power of 1%?

With parents across the state and the nation expressing increasing dissatisfaction with the educational (de)form crowd de Blasio has an opportunity to seize upon the anger and lead education policy back to sanity.

Data Addiction: Why Commissioners Need a 12-Step Program to Cure Data Compulsion and Save Hundreds of Millions, and, Perhaps, Return Sanity to Classrooms.

When the number of initiatives increases, while time, energy and emotional energy are constant, then each new imitative … will receive fewer minutes, dollars and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.
Doug Reeves

Some years ago The Department of Education, with fanfare, and an 80+ million dollar price tag, announced the creation of the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS)”… a single place where educators can find important information to use to accelerate student learning.”

“ARIS,” the Department gloated, “… provides New York City educators with a secure online platform for:

• Exploring data they can use to improve student outcomes
• Sharing what they have learned by publishing documents and taking part in discussions and blogs
• Finding other educators facing similar challenges
• Creating collaborative communities to solve problems together
• ARIS Parent Link

I sat at an ARIS training session a few weeks before the rollout run by a training company – we got to play around with a beta version of the final product – it was cool! The “one-stop” stopping was useful – the collection of a number of systems on one site, the promise of a platform on which teachers can post and discuss and blog.

The promise was not the reality, the Department realized that “discussions” and “bulletin boards” and “blogs” on a Department site had to be curated and the Department did not have the will or the capacity to curate a site with tens of thousands of users.

Today ARIS “clicks per school” by teachers are meager, the goal of a “data central” that would drive instructional practice and invigorating conversation has morphed to a convenient site to access student bio-data.

The answer to a key questions is embarrassing: do “high-click” schools show higher student growth? How do end users utilize the ARIS data?

The answer, I am told, there is no correlation between the use of ARIS and pupil achievement growth, and, the use of ARIS is overwhelmingly not for instructional purposes. (Commonly checking attendance and bio-data)

Sadly, over 400 schools in New York City purchase a proprietary product, DataCation, which principals find far more useful. You will note I write “principals,” not teachers.

The State Education Department is in the midst of creating its own version of ARIS, called an Education Data Portal (EDP), a tool that was in the Race to the Top application is under construction, at a cost well north of 50 million plus.

“The EDP,” says the state, “will help educators, students, and their families improve student outcomes by:

• Providing tools to accurately monitor academic progress and other indicators, such as attendance.
• Providing access to curriculum and instructional resources aligned with standards, including curriculum modules and teacher practice videos.
• Bringing all of these resources together on one site that can be enriched with additional local school and district data and curriculum resources to support data driven improvement to practice.

Sounds just like the ARIS campaign.

The State Ed dataphiles have joined a Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), run by InBloom, a not-for-profit funded primarily by Gates-Murdoch dollars.

Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) – a not-for-profit, state-led effort created to help states, districts, schools and teachers more easily and effectively personalize education for students through open and non-proprietary standards and services.

SLC work will allow SED, school districts and schools to build or buy technologies that work on open, non-proprietary standards and services so that fiscal resources can be used to provide the most educational value and choice at the lowest cost for teachers, students, and their families.

A State Ed generated power point attempts to answer the many, many criticisms of this data-sharing collaborative.

While InBloom is a not-for-profit the data they collect and the tools they create will be for sale around the nation. Why doesn’t New York State share in whatever dollars are generated by the tools?

When the dust settles, a year or two down the road school districts will have a vast array of tools, if they wish to expend local dollars; however, will the tools make John Doe and Linda Smith better teachers?

The answer is no. The tools will enable superintendents to produce glossy power points, not help the folks in classrooms.

Currently principals can use state testing results without these new tools – download and disaggregate the scores by question – create an error matrix and ask teachers to address deficits in lessons.

The most common use of technology by teachers is Dropbox and Google.Docs, free available apps that allow teachers within or among schools to collaborate.

The feds, state departments of education and school districts use data – simple uses like creating report cards or student scheduling or tracking lunch forms – all necessary – the tools are not driven by the needs of the end users – the classroom teachers, in fact, the endless data entry and report creation adds needless complexity to the lives of teachers.

“Data-envy” is an infatuation, a compulsion, we lust after each new tool, perhaps we need a “twelve-step program” to cure this compulsion which is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, endless energy and alienating end users.

Mike Schmoker in Focus makes a simple proposal:

There will be no more initiatives – at least for a time. Instead we will focus only on what will have an immediate and dramatic impact on learning in your classrooms: ensuring implementation of a common, content-rich curriculum; good lessons; and plenty of meaningful literacy activities (such as close reading, writing and discussion) across the curriculum. What is essential? Three simple things: reasonable coherent curriculum (what we teach), sound lessons (how we teach) and far more purposeful reading and writing in every discipline (authentic literacy).

Simplicity always trumps complexity.

UPDATE: See just released reserch paper “If You Build it Will They Come? Teachers’ Online Use of Student Performance Data,”