Tag Archives: International High Schools Network

The New York State Board of Regents and State Education Department Should NOT Allow Charter Schools to Expand Beyond the Eighth Grade (A “Back Door” to Exceeding the Cap).

The cap on the number of charter schools in New York City has been reached and it appears unlikely that the legislature will increase the current cap. At the May, 2019 Board of Regents meeting a question was raised: if an existing charter school plans to extend its grades beyond the eighth grade, in essence creating a high school, would the new configuration constitute a new school and violate the cap?  The State Education attorney did not think so; the extended school would remain as a single charter entity.

The extended charter would essentially be creating a new high school, and, I believe, would not comply with the spirit and intent of the charter school law.

While the extension may, or may not, exceed the cap the extension does not comply with the reasons for the granting of a charter

The law lists specific reasons for the creation of charter schools,

 The purpose of this article is to authorize a system of charter schools to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently of existing schools and school districts in order to accomplish the following objectives:

 (a) Improve student learning and achievement;

(b) Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure;

(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;

(d) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, school administrators and other school personnel;

(e) Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and

(f) Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding the school

 Charter schools have primarily been located in geographic areas with low-achieving public schools offering parents an alternative to traditional public schools.

In New York City traditional public high schools are not “neighborhood schools.” The application process to high schools applies to all high schools and allows students to make twelve choices and matches students to schools; over 90% of students receive one of their top three choices.

There are 419 high schools and educational option programs within high schools. The choices of schools are extremely broad; the vast majority of schools are theme-based, from law to health sciences, to vocational subjects to culinary arts, the list is enormous and all encompassing In addition forty schools, the Consortium Schools, offer a portfolio system in lieu of regents examinations. The over 100  innovative PROSE schools  offer a wide range of alternative scheduling, from longer periods and fewer daily periods to trimesters instead of annual or semester systems, (See appendices on the link above for specific school innovations) The Internationals Network (16 schools) only accept students who have been in the country for less than four years, with extraordinary successes and far exceed student performance in charter schools. There are fifty Transfer High Schools for students who are overage and under-credited.

The current high school system provide(s) parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities, as well as encourage(s) the use of different and innovative teaching methods and provides schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.

 The current elaborate system of high schools provides, within the current system, the goals that the charter school law lists.

There is no need for the creation of further charter high schools.

The adding of a ninth and additional grades in a current charter school is simply an attempt to bypass the cap,  is unnecessary, and antithetical to the law.

High school graduation rates have been steadily increasing. The school performance dashboards offer comparisons of schools as well as school specific data with a few clicks.

I would encourage the Regents and the State Education Department not to entertain any requests to expand grades beyond the eighth grade in any existing charter school.

Feds Release ESSA Alternate Assessment Pilot Regulations: Will New York State Apply? Will Parents, Teachers and School Districts Choose to Participate?

The feds have posted the regulations for the ESSA Alternative Assessment pilot. The competitive pilot allows seven state pilots and encourages states to apply as consortia. The regulations (Read full text here) sets an April 2nd filing date and the regulations sets forth specific requirements. The pilot is three years, possibility for a fourth year, with the goal the moving the pilot to the statewide assessment tool.

I know there is enthusiasm among many parents in the state, especially among the opt-out parents, moving from an examination-based accountability system to a project-based system, at first glance, is attractive.

I have heard: “Instead of a test at the end of the year students can submit a portfolio and a project.”

Unfortunately the application is far more specific.

Generate results, including annual summative determinations …. that are valid, reliable, and comparable for all students and for each subgroup of students;

  Provide for the participation of all students, including children with disabilities and English learners;  

 As a significant portion of the innovative assessment system in each required grade and subject in which both an innovative and statewide assessment are administered, items or performance tasks from the statewide assessment system that, at a minimum, have been previously pilot tested or field tested for use in the statewide assessment system.

 Align with the challenging State academic content standards … including the depth and breadth of such standards, for the grade in which a student is enrolled;

 The regulations are 45-pages long and includes the specificity noted in the sections above.

What do the terms “valid, reliable and comparable for all students” mean?

If you move to a system in which teachers grade/evaluate or assess student work: how do you assess inter-rater reliability? How do you assure the teachers/raters in Buffalo, Rochester, New York City, Scarsdale and Great Neck grade/assess projects/portfolios at the same level?

Vermont moved to a portfolio system in the early nineties and asked the Rand Corporation to assess the program, Daniel Koretz, now a professor at Harvard conducted the study.

“For a variety of reasons, such as the variability of tasks used, it may be unrealistic to expect a portfolio program to reach as high a level of reliability as a standardized performance-assessment program” … the report states. “However, the reliabilities obtained in Vermont in 1992 are sufficiently low to limit severely the uses to which the results can be put.”

 On the positive side, the study also found no evidence that teachers assigned higher or lower scores to their own students than did other raters.

 In the ensuing years technology has improved the rater reliability issue; in many schools in New York City regents essays are scanned and teachers grade anonymous papers, the LEA or the SED can review and monitor reliability, although with 700 school districts in the state, a complex process.

A number of states currently have alternative assessments waivers under No Child Left Behind, New Hampshire is in its fourth year and each year the state has added two school districts to a performance task system.

What are performance tasks?

A complicated question: SCALE, Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity, has developed a data bank of tasks,

SCALE provides task and resource materials to schools and districts that have committed to adopting performance-based assessment as part of a multiple measures system for evaluating student learning.

 Check out the SCALE performance assessment resource bank here.

What does the New Hampshire alternative assessment look like?

The principles,

  • common performance tasks that have high technical quality,
  • locally designed performance tasks with guidelines for ensuring high technical quality,
  • regional scoring sessions and local district peer review audits to ensure sound accountability systems and high inter-rater reliability,
  • a web-based bank of local and common performance tasks, and
  • a regional support network for districts and schools.

The New Hampshire pilot has changed the face of teaching and learning, teaching in a performance task system is very different from teaching in a current classroom.

I suggest accessing the New Hampshire site here.

The state works with a consultancy, 2Revolutions, that has played a major role in the training of staffs, much more than training, working with teachers and schools to change cultures, to change the face of teaching and learning in a process that totally engages all the stakeholders.

Are the parents, teachers and school leaders willing to jump off the diving board, to walk into a new world, to move away from rigid testing accountability to performance tasks, to move to a student-centered, highly individualized classroom?

The fed proposal requires consultation with all stakeholders, in a limited period of time.

How will participants be selected? Do you consult with stakeholders, submit the application, and choose actual participants after the application has been approved? Or, work with high opt-out districts in the application creation process? Do you choose a subset of schools within districts, for example, the PROSE schools in New York City? Or, do you expand the Internationals Network for new immigrant arrivals? And. all these decisions within a ten week window.

Another core issue: funding. The fed regs do not come with any additional dollars; the governor/legislature will have to add funds to the budget in a restrictive funding year, or, State Ed will have to find funding from external grants.

Daniel Koretz, the current Harvard scholar who wrote the 1992 Rand Report criticizing the Vermont Portfolio Project has a new book, The Testing Charade, Pretending to Make Schools Better (2017); although he is not anti-testing he does skewer the current use of testing – Read review here.

Can you sever testing from accountability and simply use testing a tool to guide instruction?

A weighty nuanced discussion that would normally take many months is squeezed into a narrow time frame; the folks in Albany have an extremely difficult task.

Getting Better: Professional Development is Not a “One-Shot,” Building Learning Communties Builds Highly Effective Teachers

How many times have you sat in an auditorium listening to some “expert” tell you how to teach?

I was one of those cynical high school teachers who resented anyone telling me how to teach, and, I was wrong, learning is a lifetime activity. In my era we learned to teach by trial and error, we learned from our colleagues and, mostly, we learned from our students.

The principal handed out a thick packet of faculty conference notes and then preceded to begin to read the notes to the staff, I raised my hand rather vigorously and interrupted, I suggested: “Maybe you can read one line and we can jointly read the next, responsive reading, like in church.” The principal moved from boring faculty conferences to a committee meetings structure.

It was the rare school and the rare principal that supported a professional development structure.

Over time I became a reflective teacher, moving from blaming kids to constantly tinkering with my lessons and adding tools to that teacher toolbox.

In the last few years the Department of Education encouraged common planning time and the new teacher contract actually embeds planning time in the contract. Common planning time without a context may be meaningless.

Professional development, mentoring, guiding teachers and principals are complex processes. To be polite, highly effective principals measured by test scores do not always make highly effective professional developers; in fact, too often they’re ineffective teachers of teachers.

A principal hired a retired principal to work with new(er) teachers; we were chatting in the principal’s office. The retired principal: “These new teachers are impossible, they think they know everything, they refuse to listen, I’ve been doing this for forty years and they’re only going to spend a couple of years in teaching …”

I wandered down to a teachers’ room, a couple of new(er) teachers were working on a project … I asked: “How’s it working out with Ms. X (the retired principal)?”

A new(er) teacher: “She’s sounds like my mother … all she does is criticize, she can’t listen, she hasn’t been teaching in a classroom for thirty years …”

Professional development is an art and a science. Simply hiring a retiree to work with teachers or hiring a vendor to speak at a faculty meeting is not a professional development system.

The excerpt below describes the elements of a professional development system,

Elements of Quality Professional Development

Appropriate Content
Professional development should incorporate content knowledge and specific research validated practices that support demanding content standards (such as cooperative learning techniques for math within the heterogeneous classroom). Professional development should link this new knowledge to the prior knowledge of the participants. Professional development should deliver content appropriate to the needs of participants. Where these include process or management skills, links should be made to the teaching of (or establishing an effective learning environment for teaching) rigorous content.

On-going and Sustained
Professional Development should be long-range in nature, recognizing that learning is incremental and meaningful learning needs to be supported over time. This allows participants to experiment with and reflect on their practice in a supportive setting. … and not consist of single events, weekend conferences, or activities that recur over a year with different people. Such activities can be useful as initiating events (e.g., to introduce ideas); they are not strategies through which deep growth and change are accomplished.

Active Engagement
Participants should experience through first-hand and active engagement the curriculum / pedagogy / assessment activities as a model of what needs to occur in the classroom. Activities must be inquiry-based and be as varied and engaging for the participants as they are for students. The facilitators of the activity should model the practices that they advocate.

Teams of professionals should work together on real work: development of curriculum, problem solving concerning classroom practices, reflection about pedagogy, development of common language, and engagement in reciprocal observation and feedback. This element also requires that the participants be actively involved in the design and implementation of activities that have direct application to their work.

Professional development activities occur as a natural and normal aspect of a professional life. It is embedded in the routine organization of the school day and year and viewed as an integral part of the life of the school. It represents a mutual obligation: on the part of the system to provide opportunities for and on the part of the individual to engage in life-long learning. Professional development should require participants to plan and reflect upon their professional activities and practice.

Client-Focused and Adaptive
Professional development should be based on the interests and needs of the participants and the schools in which they serve. Professional development activities, just as people, should grow and change over time adapting appropriately to changing needs and changing people. Professional development should be based on formal analyses of needs. There should also be a balance between the support for institutional initiatives and the support for those initiated by participants, individually and collectively.

Incorporates Reflection
• Participants must have time to analyze and reflect, with opportunities for the infusion of new information and perspectives, as well as criticism and guidance from external sources. Professional development should not attempt to deliver practices simply to be uncritically replicated in the classroom or school. They should challenge, enhance, and make connections to their current practice. This creates a cycle of experience and reflection that promotes continuous improvement.

Other models below:
Five Key Elements to Successful Embedded Teacher Professional Development: http://www.nwea.org/blog/2013/five-key-elements-to-successful-embedded-teacher-professional-development/
Teachers as Learners: Elements of Effective Professional Development: http://images.pearsonassessments.com/images/NES_Publications/2002_08Dunne_475_1.pdf

Half of all teachers, 70% in high needs middle schools, leave within five years; one of the primary reasons is the lack of support system, the absence of a professional development system. Under the current school management model superintendents only exist because the law requires superintendents, they have no pedagogical staff, networks are lightly staffed, only 7 or 8 pedagogues on the staff supporting twenty-five schools. Grants provide a range of support services and some principals hire retirees or vendors. A few organizations, NYC Outward Bound, the Internationals High School Network (http://internationalsnps.org/), the UFT Teacher Centers and the Partnership Support Organizations (PSOs) provide more structured, targeted professional development. Others schools have embedded a culture of collaboration, a culture of on-going professional development, for too many what is called professional development is a top-down, rigid, punitive and, ultimately ineffective.

The current close relationship between the Department and the Union offers a window, an opportunity to move the school system from a paramilitary structure to a collaborative structure; windows are only open for so long.

Teachers thrive in safe settings that allow them to experiment, to stumble, to gain expertise, in thoughtfully constructed professional development systems.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with school district leaders and principals who engaged with staff and with kids; superintendents who ran faculty conferences, who walked the halls of schools, who talked to kids. Superintendents who “rule” by edict, who model imputence, destroy cultures of collaboration, destroy learning communities.

How many superintendents have you worked with who were comfortable talking with teachers not talking down to teachers?

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

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

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

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

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

The Post reports a 2011 study,

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

And, the editorial concludes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiple Pathways (and Obstacles) to Graduation: How Can We Help the 25% of Students Who Fail to Graduate?

Multiple Pathways to Graduation is a strange term. Twenty years ago the Regents decided to end the dual local or Regents diploma pathways. After debate that dragged on for a few years the Regents decided to terminate the local diploma pathway – all students would have to pass five Regents exams, the alternate pathway, the Regents Competency Test (RCT), an eighth grade level exam would be phased out with a “safety net” for Students with Disabilities (SWD). During the phase-in the passing grade on Regents exams was reduced to 55 and incrementally students had to pass Regents with a grade of 65 – the Regents delayed the full implementation a numerous times – it took a dozen years. We now have one pathway – the Regents diploma – the RCT diploma- the local diploma is gone, the “safety net” (Regents grade of 55) is the only alternative pathway and only applies to SWDs.(See graduation requirements for students with disabilities here)

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), standards at a significantly higher level narrow the pathway to graduation. The decision to phase in the impact of CCSS Regents exams, similar to the decision to eliminate the RCT diploma, makes perfect sense.

By adopting the “college and career readiness” metric the Regents have re-created a dual diploma. We define “college and career readiness’ as grades of 75 on the Algebra 1 Regents exam and 80 on the English Regents, and, we have no definition of “career readiness.” About a third of graduates meet the “college and career readiness” bar.

The Regents have been discussing the ill-defined “multiple pathways” for years. (See 2012 discussion items here) The Commissioner has “suggested” that the feds only require high school exit exams in English, Math and Science, and, perhaps we should adopt the fed standards. A year or so ago the Commissioner was enthusiastic about New York State adopting the PARCC consortium exams – national exams in English and Math for all kids in grades 3 – 11, although PARCC has not been mentioned recently as the pushback against the CCSS has increased across the state.

At the July Retreat the Regents will consider a proposal, called “Four Plus One,” to make the Global Studies Regents exam optional and replace the exam with a number of other possible assessments.

While we have absolutely no definition of “career readiness” the Department posits that an “industry-approved CTE assessment” substitute for the Global Regents exam.

What does an “industry-approved assessment” look like?

The California Department of Education CTE Industry-Assessment:

Take a look at the “Engineering and Architecture” assessments: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/sf/documents/enginearchit.pdf

These standards are far above the current Regents standards – far, far more difficult than passing a Global Studies Regents.

In fact, rather than talking about “Four Plus One,” talking about an alternative pathway, the Regents should consider an “industry-approved assessment” as qualifying for a “diploma with advanced designation”
(See diploma requirements here)

At the P-Tech presentation the presenters proudly proclaimed that the program was not a screened program then went on to explain how they screen students. P-Tech has received more hype than any school model in memory. Unfortunately it is not a panacea. The presenters explained how in their upstate county a new hi tech industry was seeking 200 new employees and only six applicants fit the qualifications – the enthusiastic panelists said they were looking for kids who were “knuckle-busters,” kids interesting in working in industry, the gentleman sitting next to me leaned over and said, “He fails to mention the kids also have to pass the Algebra 2 Regents with grades of 75”).

The Brooklyn P-Tech School – visited by President Obama and the model for the other 16 new P-Tech sites has data as described below:

For the 12-13 School Year (January, June and August Regents Exams)
Regents Exam Average Grade
Algebra 1 72
Geometry 57
Algebra 2 47
Living Environment 68
Physics 54

Bottom line: Not a magic bullet.

When we talk about multiple or more accurately alternative pathways to graduate we mean what are we doing for the 25% of kids who do not graduate?

“Four Plus One,” or P-Tech or Industry Assessments will not help these kids. The 25% include SWD who cannot reach the safety net, English language learners, Afro-American and Hispanic males and kids identified in the sixth grade with attendance below 80% … what are we doing for these kids?

The Commissioner and a number of Board members refer to lack of “access and opportunity,” what does that mean? For too many kids there are no chances of “access and opportunity” Rural districts are on the cusp of educational bankruptcy – they can barely provide the courses required for graduation, in the “big five” cities industries have been leaving for two decades, along with jobs, foreclosures, poor health services, which the Governor, the Regents and the Commissioner ignore.

Scattered around the state there are schools and clusters of schools that succeed, shouldn’t we study why these outliers are succeeding? Why is Columbia Secondary School in Harlem highly successful and the vaunted P-Tech stumbling? Why are English language learners in the fifteen International High Schools graduating at rates substantially above English language learners throughout the state? Why are the Expeditionary Learning Schools outperforming other high schools?

Let’s hope the deep dive into Multiple Pathways to Graduation is not a charade – there are no easy answers, dropping a “hard” Regents is not helping kids; let’s not allow “fear of the feds” drive doing what is best for our kids – all of our kids.

The Hybrid School: Charter Look-a-Likes in the Unionized Public Sector: People, Not Ideology, Makes Great Schools

The charter school was on the top floor of a public school, I whiled away my time at the desk as security eventually called upstairs. As I trekked up the stairs I looked down the hallways of the public school, the teachers were shabbily dressed, loud angry noises from a few classrooms, too many kids in the hallways. As I walked out on the floor of the charter school a student, wearing the school uniform came up to me and introduced himself and asked if could be of assistance.

If I was a parent, which school would I want my child to attend?

We want orderly schools; the tone of a school to me drives the academics, as my superintendent was fond of repeating, “Order precedes learning.”

Networks were a failed attempt to create clusters of schools, affinity groups of schools working together, growing together, and creating a common culture. The department espoused the school leader as a CEO, in reality the system remained a top-down accountability-driven hierarchy. The network leadership was mediocre and school leaders fled to networks and Partnership Support Organizations (PSO) that were “helpful” and not intrusive. Unfortunately too many principals allowed their lives to be dominated by School Progress Reports and Quality Reviews to the exclusion of a laser-like focus on teaching and learning in collaborative settings.

Scattered around the city are highly effective schools, schools that parents fight to get into, public schools, not charter schools.

If you are against charter schools you are against quality education, you are against school reform. Gina Belfante in her New York Times article demurs,

When he was campaigning for mayor, Bill de Blasio had an enlightened formulation — that charter schools, though they educate only 6 percent of the city’s children, had usurped nearly all the conversation, and that this was an unhealthy proportion. And yet since he was elected he has been too lost in the morass to reframe and reorient the discussion.

The mayor has allowed charter school advocates, whose public-relations machine would seem to rival the operations of Paramount in the 1940s, to continue to leave too many people believing that if you are against charter schools you are against “change,” and thus by default a friend of laziness and mediocrity. To even question the motives or practices of charter schools is to be a supplicant in the cult of the teachers’ union, which is its own absurdity, just as it is a disgrace that the term “education reform” has come to refer almost exclusively to the charter movement, belying the innovation that can happen within regular public schools.

If the mayor’s messaging were more robust, determined and aggressive, he might draw attention to hybrid schools, which strive to offer poor children something like the experience of a private education within the context of the traditional public system, using union teachers.

The Eagle Academy Foundation is a consortium of five schools, grades 6-12, with an all Afro-American male student body. The schools are public schools operating under the union contract. 82% of the student body is accepted to college, well beyond the stats for Afro-American males. The students wear white shirts and ties; the school is orderly, a heavy emphasis on mentoring and counseling. The schools look and feel like charter schools – there only real comparison is fund raising. The Eagle Academy struggles to raise money to supplement department of education funding, the hedge fund entrepreneurs who so richly fund charter schools shun the Eagle Academy – their sin: they hire union teachers.

The Eagle Academy Foundation has a much harder time raising money. “A lot of the Wall Street, hedge fund guys are not pro-union guys,” David C. Banks, the Eagle Academy Foundation’s president and chief executive told me. “It’s not the world they come from. They see charters as places of innovation, and that’s the narrative the business community wants to support. I’ve had people say to me, straight up, ‘We’re not just funding a school, we’re funding a philosophy, and that philosophy is anti-union.’ ”

The International High Schools are a consortium of fourteen grades 9-12 high schools, they only enroll student who have been in the country four years or less. The graduation rate far exceeds both the city and state rates for English language learners. The schools are supported by the Internationals High School Network, a not-for-profit that must raise funds to provide professional development for their schools. The schools are all characterized by a high level of teacher involvement in all aspects of school organization – the schools are models of “practitioner lead” collaboration. The schools are department of education schools operating under the union contract. (Read article on page 19 by International Network leader Claire Sylvan)

Generations High School, located in South Shore High School has a 200-day student instructional year – teachers work under the teacher contract – the school worked out an arrangement with union – the teachers work the same number of days as all other teachers.

The anti-union bias is unfortunate – some of the innovative schools/programs engaging the most at-risk students are public schools working under the union contract.

In the 90’s District 22 in Brooklyn fully implemented School and District Leadership Teams and school-based budgeting. The district provided in-depth training for school teams, in classroom setting and tutorials. One school created a school within a school, another used state and federal funds to extend the school day, the district asked the chancellor to designate the district as a charter district with wider latitude over the expenditure of funds – request denied.

As the department moves to redesign itself it must realize the real innovation is bottom up, the antithesis of the current rigid Tweed driven accountability structure.

Hiring the innovators, the best and the brightest, the smartest, the most dedicated leaders, both teachers and supervisors with proven records of success and supporting there efforts will create effective schools.

A message to hedge funders: the absence of unions does not make for effective schools – teachers and school leaders make for great schools, dedicated, smart folks make differences.

The deepest education thinkers of the last century – John Dewey and Al Shanker, were union members.