Tag Archives: John Flanagan

“All Politics is Local,” The Saga of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), Assessing Teacher Performance and the Underside of Law-Making in Albany

Mike Schmoker, the author of Focus, wrote a prescient article in Education Week, “Why I’m Against Innovation in Education” at the same time that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg announced yet another richly funded innovation,  “The State of the Art Ideas for Schools,” Schmoker writes,

I’m against innovation in education—as currently conceived and conducted. I’m not against small-scale educational experimentation, where new methods are tested, refined, and proved before they are widely implemented. But I’m against our inordinate obsession with what’s new at the expense of what works—with exceedingly superior (if much older) evidence-based practices

 “Inordinate obsession” is the appropriate term; education policy has been driven by billionaires, economists, statisticians and psychometricians, experts on one field setting policy in another field. A prime example is the work of Raj Chetty, who uses “big data,” statistical tools to analyze huge datasets. Chetty and others, in “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood” concludes that high Value Added teachers have a substantial positive impact on students into adulthood; however, warns that VA should not be used for teacher evaluation

… our study shows that great teachers create great value and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers. However, more work is needed to determine the best way to use VA for policy. For example, using VA in teacher evaluations could induce counterproductive responses that make VA a poorer measure of teacher quality, such as teaching to the test or cheating. There will be much to learn about these issues from school districts that start using VA to evaluate teachers.

 In spite of Chetty’s caveat states across the nation hopped on the “assess teachers through student test results” bandwagon. The NYS Board of Regents held a summit, experts from across the nation, expressing opinions on the use of student data as assessment tools. The experts warned that the use of Value-Added was ill-advised; teachers teach different kids each year, as well as different grades and different subjects, the errors of measurement, plus/minus ten, twenty, thirty percent makes the data useless. Another vampire idea, a refuted idea that refuses to die; popping up again and again.

The New York State Race to the Top application, in exchange for $700 million, included a multiple measures plan, teachers rated by a combination of supervisory observations and student test scores. Without going too far into the weeds, the current system, called a matrix, combines supervisory observations and student learning objectives (SLO) also referred to as measurements of student learning (MOSL).

Three years ago the governor agreed to a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores and this year the commissioner was in the early phases of constructing an alternative plan. The commissioner has used a consultative process, task forces or work groups, the names are interchangeable, to propose changes in state policies.

Apparently the state teacher union (NYSUT) had been working with the Assembly leadership to craft a plan, a bill was introduced the day before the state teacher union convention and passed, with only one negative vote a few days later. The commissioner was clearly stunned, and not happy. While changing the law is the responsibility of the legislature, the commissioner is the leader, the CEO of the state education establishment amd would expect to be part of the bill drafting process.

A summary of the changes and the opinions of the stakeholders, read here .

The bill passed in the Assembly was introduced as the Senate, a “same as” bill, and, sponsored by the Senate education chair; however, not so fast. Chalkbeat, the online education website muses over the future of the bill.

Senate Majority leader John Flanagan has a dilemma, the bill is popular with parents as well as teachers, the Long Island Opt Out Facebook page proudly boasts 25,000 members, a number of them in Republican senatorial districts. Flanagan needs cover for his Republican colleagues, and his presser speculates over whether the bill will increase the number of tests, clearly an appeal to Opt Out parents.

Since it was first introduced, the State Education Department, the New York State School Boards Association, and the New York Council of School Superintendents have raised concerns that the legislation as written could inadvertently open the door to even more testing than we have now.  Nobody – not students, not parents, not teachers, nor myself or my legislative colleagues – wants that outcome.  With this in mind, we are performing an extensive review of this legislation to determine the best path forward. 

The School Boards Association also questions the bill, a bill that requires negotiations with the collective bargaining agents

We are concerned that if enacted, proposed APPR legislation that has passed the Assembly would result in additional student testing. 

Unless the state wants to forfeit federal ESSA funds, it still must administer grades 3-8 ELA and math state assessments. Under the proposed APPR legislation, students could have to take both the state tests as well as alternative assessments that would be used for teacher and principal evaluation purposes.

In addition, we have serious concerns about the requirement in the legislation for school districts to negotiate the selection of alternative assessments through collective bargaining. This represents a step backward, as school districts presently have the authority to determine assessments used in teacher evaluations.

School boards would rather see unions disappear than work with them in a collaborative manner.

The leader of Long Island Opt Out sees the proposed law as a “small step,” and is agnostic.

Jeanette Brunelle Deutermann

Admin · May 2 at 6:31pm

I want to be clear on what went down/is going down with the new APPR legislation. First and foremost, this legislation does absolutely nothing for children. Not that all legislation has to be centered around children, but I just want to ensure that if you hear ANY INDIVIDUAL or ORGANIZATION proclaim that it is, they are lying. All this does is take away the REQUIREMENT for districts to use 3-8 scores in evaluations, the way it used to be before the moratorium. After this law is passed, districts will continue to be forced to use test scores as 50% of their evaluation, but now in addition to local computer assessments, the science test, or regents tests being a choice, now 3-8 assessments are back on the list. A minuscule positive detail – they don’t HAVE to use 3-8 tests (as they would have had to use as the moratorium comes to an end). Those involved in creating this bill are celebrating this as a huge win. A more appropriate response would be “very sad that this is all our elected officials could muster.” Some have said “but it’s a step.” I guess that all depends on what shoes you’re wearing.

 The legislature will plod along, adjournment around the end of the third week in June and won’t return, except for an unusual special session, until January, 2019; the governor has until the end of the year to sign bills that pass both houses.

Will the Republican leader bring the bill to the floor for a vote? Will the governor sign the bill?

Flanagan has a conundrum,

  •  Should he try and extract a quid prop quo from the Democrats in the Assembly – signing the bill in exchange for, let’s say, raising the charter school cap in New York City, or, approving pre-K classes in the Success Academy charter schools? Actions probably resulting in dollars from the charter school political action committees.
  • Should Flanagan, sub rosa, try and get NYSUT, the teacher union, not to vigorously oppose fellow Republicans in the November general election? Unlikely
  • Should he simply “say no,” it’s a bad bill, without changes palatable to the commissioner and the school board association? In other words use the commissioner and the school board association as cover.

Or, oppose the bill and try and trash the teacher union as being self-serving.

And, will the governor sign the bill without an endorsement from NYSUT?  The small number of union locals that endorsed Zephyr Teachout four years ago might decide to endorse Cynthia Nixon this time, clearly engendering the animosity of the governor.

The end of the legislative session is called “the big ugly” for a reason.

Oddly, this is not an issue in New York City. The City and the Union agreed upon a system of using SLOs and MOSLs and a sophisticated set of alghorisms that satisfies their needs. Under the last year of Bloomberg 2.7% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, under the current matrix, less than 1% of teachers received ineffective ratings. The question of the number of observations will be part of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

Maybe a sentence that should be posted above the Albany legislative chambers:

“No mans life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Gideon J. Tucker, NYS Surrogate, 1866

Who is Responsible for the Demise of Mayoral Control? Eva

Years ago I served on the teacher union negotiating team in New York City.  We started with formal meetings across the table with thick briefing books; each side presented “demands” and the other side agreed, disagreed or put aside for further discussion. Slowly, the number of “demands” was pared down to the core issues. We discussed an issue and management would respond, “We have to discuss among ourselves, we’ll be back in an hour.” The hour turned into two and three and more hours as management consulted with the city and school boards and “other interested parties.”

The ultimate decision-makers were management, the Board of Education, and the union; however. neither side wanted other organizations to publicly trash the ultimate settlement; consensus settlements are essential

In 1975 the negotiations began in the spring and moved through the summer as the differences narrowed, days before the start of school the city pitched toward default and layoff notices went out to  14,000 teachers. We rapidly moved from “Lets’ keep talking and start the school year” to a strike vote.  I still vividly remember the Delegate Assembly, after almost two days of around the clock negotiations, a strike vote was almost unanimously voted by the thousand plus delegates and teachers walked the picket line.

After a week on strike and a complex agreement teachers returned and later in the fall the union actually loaned the city money to avert default. (Read “How the UFT Saved the City” here) and in a couple of years all laid off teachers were offered jobs.

The 2002 mayoral control law in New York City has a sunset clause – unless it is extended the law sunsets, expires, the city returns to the previous management structure – a seven member board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor. In May the city would conduct school board elections in the 32 community school districts.

Under Mayor Bloomberg the legislature extended the law for multiple years, in 2009 the law did expire, the central board met and “re-hired” Chancellor Joel Klein and in August the legislature held a special session and renewed the law for multiple years.

This year the key players are the leader of majority Democrats in the Assembly, Carl Heastie and the Republican leader in the Senate, John Flanagan and Governor Cuomo.

Why is Flanagan, who represents a district on the north shore of Long Island, with no charter schools, such an avid supporter of charter schools?

The answer, in my view, is simple: dollars from national supporters of charter schools, i.e., Walmart, etc., and the major player: Eva Moskowitz

Eliza Shapiro at Politico writes,

“Moskowitz has run the network with the ferocity and urgency of a political campaign, with City Hall press conferences attacking the mayor, selectively placed op-eds and leaks in friendly media outlets, and a robust lobbying infrastructure in Albany that has helped cultivate support from Republican legislators outside the city.” 

“In January, during the fight over DeVos’ nomination, Moskowitz released a statement saying the nominee had “the talent, commitment, and leadership capacity to revitalize our public schools and deliver the promise of opportunity that excellent education provides.”

Most charter schools are community charter schools, idiomatically referred to as “Mon and Pop” charter schools. The question of whether the cap should increased has no impact on these schools. The network charter schools, charter management organizations with multiple schools, have opposed Trump policies. The only supporter of Trump policies in the charter world is Eva Moskowitz.

Moskowitz’s name was conspicuously absent, for example, from a public letter protesting Trump’s education budget, signed by the leaders of KIPP, Uncommon and Achievement First — the three other major charter networks in New York City. Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, sits on Success’s board, but has urged charter backers not to join the Trump administration.

While not sitting at the table, Eva clearly has veto power over any settlement. Flanagan needs the charter school dollars to fund campaigns to make sure the Republicans maintain their slim, very slim, one-vote majority in the Senate.

What happens next?

The legislature can return and extend mayoral control. or,

The borough presidents will appoint members to the central board and the current 13-member Panel for Education Priorities, nine appointed by the mayor will dissolve.

Three of the borough presidents, Reuben Diaz, the Bronx, Eric Adams, Brooklyn and Melinda Katz, Queens, will be candidates for citywide office four years down the road, all will be elected in November to their last term, they are term-limited. Maybe they’ll simply re-appoint Farina as their predecessors did in 2009, or, act independently to raise their own profile citywide.  Maybe they will question de Blasio/Farina education policies and encourage a public debate. In the past the borough president appointed members who were highly political, seeking political advantage for their borough president. (“political advantage” is a polite way of saying patronage).

Esmeralda Simmons, a professor at Medgar Evers College was a Dinkens appointee to the central board – I listened to her describe a totally politicized board (unfortunately no longer online).

While Regents members are ‘elected” by the Democratic majority in the Assembly to the best of my knowledge they are totally free to make any decision, and, the members are highly qualified.

If the Brooklyn selectee to a new central board is Brooklyn College professor David Bloomfield, the mayor selections NYU Metro Center professor David Kirkland and education advocate Leonie Haimson, and other selectees who are highly regarded educators and advocates, a central board selected for expertise and advocacy, no political loyalty, the return to a central board might be fruitful.

While community school board authority was limited by 1997 legislation the elections might be highly contentious. The powers of local school boards could be limited, or, expanded by the central board.

Back in November, 2013, weeks after the de Blasio election I mused over whether we would engage in a wide-ranging public debate.

Tyack and Cuban in their seminal “Tinkering Toward Utopia,” a study of the school reform movement over many decades emphasizes that reforms are only embedded if they are bottom up, reforms must reflect the changes accepted by teachers and parents.

Tyack and Cuban argue that the ahistorical nature of most current reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence. The authors suggest that reformers today need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.

The current reforms, regardless of their value, have been imposed from above. As teachers ask questions, push back, the administration shoves harder and harder, resulting in increasing frustration and hostility within schools.

The debate is currently over should we have districts or networks, the details of the teacher evaluation plan, letter grading of schools, closing of schools, etc., rather than the larger and more significant question: what are our core principles?

Do we want to continue a system based on choice and accountability, or, move to a system based on equity? Do we want a system driven by top-down proscriptive, requirements, a compliance-driven system, or, a bottom up system with key instructional decisions made at the district/school level?

Do we want a school system built around communities with a heavy dose of parent and community involvement or a school system driven by the goals of the mayor?

Do we want a school system in which parents, teachers and school leaders play a role in establishing policies at the school level, and if so, how do we monitor progress?

What are the “big ideas” that should drive teaching and learning in the 1800 plus schools?

Clearly, we have made substantial progress, clearly we have a long way to go. Past experience tells us that “politics as usual,’ behind the scenes wheeling-and-dealing for political advantage, would be destructive of all the gains over the last four years; returning to a central board without a selection process free from politics is returning to a seriously flawed management system. The current structure is far from perfect, some of my suggestions above are still absent from the mayoral control management model.

In my view the failure of achieving an extension of mayoral control is directly traceable to Eva Moskowitz – she holds millions of dollars to fund Republican campaigns in her grip, and, Flanagan and company could not afford, in political terms, to ignore her.

Not only is mayoral control being held hostage, so are the tax extenders that are crucial to supplement the budget of many upstate cities; if the tax extenders are not passed these communities will face staggering cuts in services.

As the legislature swirled toward adjournment a change was made in SUNY regs that allow charter schools to hire unlimited numbers of uncertified teachers and certify the teachers themselves – no edTPA, no exams at all (Read the story and link to the regulations here)

Gideon John Tucker (February 10, 1826 – July 1899) was an American lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. In 1866, as Surrogate of New York, he wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Not much has changed.




Senator Flanagan versus President Obama: Will New York State Challenge Immediate High-Stake Testing for All?

In the corridors of Albany a Republican State Senator from Long Island, John Flanagan, is challenging President Obama – and the challenge has nothing to do with party politics. An increasingly intrusive federal government has pushed aside the 10th Amendment and is setting national policy for education at the local level.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment is referred to as the “reserve clause,” the catch-all amendment that “reserves” powers not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited to the states. Education is a classic example of a reserved power, states, traditionally, established school governance systems, set course and graduation requirements, funding formula, criteria for teacher licensure, education was a domain of the states.

Diane Ravitch in a blog post writes, “Who owns American public education? Until a decade ago, we might have answered: the public. Or the states. Or the local school boards. Now, the likely answer is: the U.S. Department of Education.”

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), for the first time, introduced a role for the federal government in education. Title I of ESEA provided dollars to states based upon a poverty formula in exchange for directing dollars to specific schools. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the reauthorization of ESEA, in 2002, dramatically changed the role of the feds, school districts that received federal funds, almost all school districts, were required to test all students in English/Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and students in high schools in English, Mathematics and Science and were required to take remedial action for “failing” schools, actions that included replacing staffs and/or principals, school closures and conversion to charter schools.

In 2011 the National Governors Association, using Gates funding, created “standards” in all grades; 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, now referred to as Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The plan envisioned two consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balance, would create tests to measure student competency based on the CCSS in grades 3-11, tests that were national in scope, all the states in each consortium would take the same tests. States would no longer control the content and structure of federally required tests.

The Race to the Top (RttT) dangled billions of federal dollars to states in exchange for significant commitments – adopting the Common Core standards and student testing based on the CCSS, student test score-based (VAM) teacher evaluations and a data warehouse to store student information.

The powers guaranteed by the 10th Amendment have been significantly eroded by the federal government. The Supreme Court has vacillated on the question of the powers of the federal government and education conservatives, Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli are uncomfortable with the intrusive role of the feds,

The federal government has pushed far too deeply into the routines and operations of the nation’s public schools, now regulating everything from teacher credentials to the selection of reading programs.

New York State has enthusiastically adopted the federal agenda – a recipient of 700 million in RttT funds, and the full federal agenda typified by the rapid adoption of the CCSS and concomitant testing.

In August, 2013 the first set of CCSS state test scores were released – 2/3 of the students in the state failed the tests and Afro-American, Hispanic, English language learners and Special Education students had appallingly low scores.

• 31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• 5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

As parent anger grew the commissioner pushed back and defended the full adoption of CCSS and the full implementation of CCSS testing. At meeting after meeting, forum after forum the public pushed and the commissioner defended.

On January 7th the leader of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who rarely comments on any pending issue announced,

“I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core,” Silver said. “The problem with it is … No. 1, it was suddenly put upon teachers and students and administrators and schools. The support for it was not forthcoming as quickly as the rigors of Common Core, and the training wasn’t there for a lot of the teachers that are charged with using it as the basis for their education.”

Throughout the fall Senator Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee held hearing around the state and introduced a number of bills to limit and safeguard the data warehouse, and, announced he was considering the introduction of legislation to slow down the implementation of the CCSS testing.

On January 24th the NYS Senate Education Committee engaged with Commissioner King for almost two hours. Senator after senator asked the commissioner to press the “delay” or the “pause” button and the commissioner, politely and firmly explained that while the state education department could have done things differently, and agreed the implementation was uneven and parent engagement was lacking the feds required annual testing and the only tests were the CCSS tests.

Watch from minute 1:42 until the end (thirteen minutes) for comments from Senator Flanagan and the Commissioner’s reply (See U-Tube here). Well worth watching – Senator Flanagan firmly asked for a plan and the commissioner just as firmly evaded.

A Regents Task Force is scheduled to report at the February 10th Regents meeting – the senator announced he was expecting a “tangible” plan to respond to the criticisms from across the state.

Although thoroughly professional Senator Flanagan made it clear the Senate Education Committee would take actions if they were not satisfied with the report of the Regents Task Force, and the unspoken threat is a bill requiring a delay.

The commissioner has consistently averred that a delay in implementation was out of the question – he argues federal law requires annual testing. Senator Flanagan made it clear – this is New York State – we are the leader – an implicit argument that the feds don’t want to pick a fight with the Empire State.

The actions of the Senate Education Committee may be the beginning of challenges around the nation. Can the federal government require education policies that parents and their legislators think are inappropriate? Will the Regents and the commissioner directly challenge Senator Flanagan’s “advice”? Usually, both sides come to an “understanding” that pushes aside any confrontation; however, the tide of anger on the part of parents around the state requires “tangible” action – anything short of a delay will be rejected by parents.

Senator Flanagan and his colleagues are demanding that the Common Core be de-linked from immediate high-stakes testing for all.

I do not think legislators will risk losing their offices over the issue of Common Core testing; rather challenge the federal law than risk the ire of voters at the polls.

Our founding fathers (and mothers, let’s not forget Abigail Adams and Sally Hemmings) were both creative and deep thinkers. The advice of Thomas Jefferson is especially prescient,

Should [reformers] attempt more than the established habits of the people are ripe for, they may lose all and retard indefinitely the ultimate object of their aim.” –Thomas Jefferson to Mme de Tesse,

I think it would be better to wind up [the settlement of a new constitution] as quickly as possible, to consider it as a mere experiment to be amended hereafter when time and trial shall show where it is imperfect.” –Thomas Jefferson to Comte de Moustier

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

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

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

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

Section 2590h of New York State law states,

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

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

Part 100.11 of NYS Department of Education regulations,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Forgotten Kids: The 25% Who Fail to Graduate. Who Are They? and, Will the State Create Multiple Pathways to Graduation?

The State Education Department as well as the New York City Department of Education consistently point to rising high school graduation rates. Whether the rising rates are due to more efficient management structures, credit recovery, pressures within schools for kids to accumulate credits or better leadership and more effective instruction we don’t know, and the school district, city and state leaderships don’t appear to be concerned as long as the metrics increase.

The increases are at the margins – significant numbers of kids do not reach the “college and career readiness” benchmarks – grades of 75 on the English Regents and 80 on the Math Regents.

The city and the state are not asking: who are kids who are not graduating?

The answer: Students with Disabilities (SWD), English language learners and the “gray” area kids – kids who pass all their subjects and cannot pass five regents exams. The move to Common Core Regents exam will only increase the number of kids not graduating.

New York State has moved to a “one size fits all” system – either you accumulate credits and pass five regents, or, you don’t graduate. Period. In the nineties the State began the phase out of the dual diploma – the Regents and the Regents Competency Test (RCT) diplomas, a system which recognized the varying levels of student ability.

Should the State allow for “Multiple Pathways,” other paths to graduation aside from the “standard model.” The State has been approving a waiver for twenty-five high schools – a “portfolio-roundtable” option within the Performance-Based Standards Consortium.

For a number of years the Board of Regents has been grappling with the question of high school graduation requirements. The internal argument: should we “nibble around the edges” or take a deep look and make coordinated changes, if we feel they are appropriate? The Board recently added a Research Paper requirement – however – it will only impact the 2014 entering class – the 2017 senior graduating class will be the first on which the new requirement will impact.

As the Regents and the Department struggle with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, the impact of the Common Core state tests, the principal/teacher accountability system (APPR), the collection of personal student data and the report of John Flanagan, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee the Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma issued a report entitled. “Rethinking Pathways to High School Graduation in New York State.” The report represents the thoughts of a range of organizations.

The recommendations of the report:

Reduce the Number of Exit Exams Required to Graduate with a High School Diploma from 5 to 3.

The recommendation would retain the English, Mathematics and the Science Regents and make the two Social Studies Regents – Global Studies and American History optional – although the recommendation would retain the course requirements.

Develop a Pathway to Graduation That Allows All Students to Demonstrate Their Knowledge and Skills Through State-Developed and/or Approved Performance-Based Assessments

In other words in lieu of a regents exam New York State would offer a performance-based assessment, as do the 25 schools with an approved state waiver.

Build More Flexibility and Support into the Current System to Make It More Accessible to Students.

The report suggests easing the Regents appeals procedure and provide alternative assessments for student in Career and Technical Education programs.

Ensure Transparency in Communications and Monitoring of All Aspects of the Multiple Pathways System.

The report urges better communications to families in regard to alternative pathways as well as a far more transparent system so that we can compare outcomes across multiple student groups.

The Multiple Pathways coalition faces an awesome task.

The Commissioner is battling increasingly angry constituencies around the state, the skirmishes have turned in to battles, the electeds, fearing voter backlash are introducing legislation and the governor, who has always stayed at the edge of the fray, may take a more active role.

The Common Core Algebra Regents Exam is due in June with the rollout of the rest of the Common Core exams over the next few years, and, let’s not forget PARCC. The Commissioner is committed to moving the current state tests to the PARCC exams in the near future, and, the PARCC exams not only replace the grades 3-8 tests they overlap the Regents, PARCC requires testing in grades 3-11.

I think the “air in the room” is too invested in the current maelstrom.

And, let’s not forget, we will probably have a new chancellor for New York City in a few days.

Hopefully the coalition report will begin a dialogue. Over the past few years the “dialogue” has been one-way – State Education and the Regents defending policy initiatives as the “field” pushes back.

Arne Duncan, John King, Mayor Bloomberg, the CEOs of major corporations all bemoan the state of American education – they cry that the just released international PISA scores highlight how our system is failing. Amanda Ripley, in “The Smartest Kids in the World does a wonderful analysis of the kids in schools in Finland, South Korea and Poland, three of the highest achieving school systems in the world. She asks whether the American people want those schools, or, maybe we have the school we want.

In January the Regent promise a block of time to discuss Multiple Pathways – let’s hope an important topic gets to breathe part of the air.

Senator Flanagan Warns the Commissioner: Clean Up Your Act or We’ll Do It For You … Is the Common Core and Testing Rising to the Top of the 2014 Election Agenda?

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution
(James Madison, The Federalist Papers, # 10)

Education policy in New York State is not made by the legislature or the governor, policy is determined by the Board of Regents, seventeen regents elected by the state legislature; the regents select the Commission of Education.

The legislature and the governor provide billions of dollars in funding, and, occasionally pass laws dealing with some particular area – such as the Principal-Teacher Evaluation law (APPR); however, the adoption of the Common Core, the testing regimen, the I Bloom data dashboard, the creation of curriculum modules, etc., are all within the realm of the Department of Education.

On August 7th the feces and the fan collided,

31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard. (In other words, two-thirds of kids did not meet the proficiency standard – they failed the tests).

Parents were shocked!!

My kids have always done well in school, I pay a ton in school taxes and it’s always been worth it. We have excellent principals and teachers – what happened? Who is this commissioner telling me to trust him? My kids may not get into college,

The revolution began.

As Madison so cogently wrote, “relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.”

In forum after forum parents attacked the Commissioner, sometimes rude, sometimes downright angry. The Commissioner reacted poorly, pouring napalm on the fire.

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

Are parents “special interests”?

The Commissioner defended, he didn’t back off from any of the wide range of complex initiatives – stay the course – trust me – some years down the road your kids will be better prepared to compete on the world stage.

Parents were more than leery – and they did what citizens in a representative democracy do – they pleaded with their elected officials to right a sinking ship.

Senator John Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee sponsored five forums. Flanagan’s hearings were highly structured, key players from across the state, supporters of the Common Core, opponents, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents from Buffalo to Rochester to Syracuse to Albany to Long Island to Manhattan.

Today Senator Flanagan issued a report reflecting the forums,

Action for the SED:
* Expedite Federal waivers from mandates on various testing restrictions including those for Students with Disabilities (SWD) and English Language Learners (ELL).
* Produce missing modules immediately.
* Align assessments proportionately to curriculum actually implemented.
* Delay operation of the Education Data Portal (EDP) for one year.
* Increase funding for professional development

Action for the State Legislature:
* “P-12” Bill would ban standardized testing in Pre-K thorough 2nd grade.
* “Unnecessary Testing” Bill would require the Commissioner to expedite a review of APPR plans solely to eliminate unnecessary student assessments.
* Privacy Bill which would strengthen protections of personal information stored on the state-wide data portal, establish significant civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure, and create independent oversight within SED on matters related to privacy.
* Truth-in-Testing Bill would require the Commissioner to report on the effectiveness of the common core state tests and require an independent audit to review and evaluate the common core testing program.

(Read entire 30-page Report here)

All too frequently electeds introduce bills to satisfy the discomfort and anger of their constituents. On the Assembly side over 10,000 bills are introduced in a session – only a few hundred become law.

Senator Flanagan is trying to mollify his constituents – in his 30-minute press conference he made it clear – either the SED responds, and quickly, or the legislature will intercede. 2014 is an election year, the governor and all the seats in the state legislature will be on the ballot – the anger in districts throughout the state could easily be directed at electeds who fail to respond to parent angst.

Senator Flanagan is taking a risk – he is taking the lead, he made it abundantly clear that unless the Department of Education responds, and responds quickly, the legislature would act aggressively.

Will the Governor agree? Will the Governor defend the Commissioner, or, take the lead? Will the Democrats see Senator Flanagan as a potential gubernatorial candidate and attempt to derail his leadership?

There has always been an unwritten rule – keep legislative hands off education policy. Bills usually die in committees, legislators are not education experts – leave these decisions to the Commissioner and, respect local autonomy.

In my judgment Senator Flanagan is both responding to the parents of New York State and responding to his own frustrations – the Board of Regents appears almost subservient to the Commissioner. Maybe he is right and the Common Core will result in students more able to deal with the increased skills necessary for life in the 21st century, he is not right to create the current testing regimen and his decision to set cut scores at a level to fail two-thirds of all students was a very poor decision.

Building consensus defines effective leadership. Ignoring the populace you serve, giving the impression that as a leader you know more than the plebeians who pay taxes only creates bitterness and a lack of trust.

Senator Flanagan has made it clear – clean up your act or we’ll do it for you. And, if he succeeds, and it boosts his political career, so be it.

Flanagan Hearings: An Opportunity to Vent, To Educate, Maybe, To Legislate

John Flanagan is an interesting politician with a bright future, A State Senator who represents the affluent North Shore of Long Island; in a period were the word “Republican” brings up images of the “Tea Party” and attacks on the President, the Affordable Care Act, immigration and just about every federal and state entitlement program Flanagan has steered clear of the ideology-driven rhetoric. He has wide support across the spectrum.

The New York State Senate has a unique leadership – Republican Dean Skelos is the titular party leader, he shares the leadership with Jeff Klein, a Democrat, who leads the break-away Independent Democratic Caucus. Bills require a Skelos-Klein nod to get to the floor.

The State legislature is almost totally controlled by the party leaders. On the Assembly side Sheldon Silver, the Speaker is the traditional iron-fisted leader who skillfully juggles the wants and needs of a potentially cantankerous membership.

In the uproar over the state testing program you hear not a whimper from the Assembly side.

Senator Flanagan has held hearings around the state, Long Island, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Tuesday in Manhattan.

Watch the hearings and read submitted testimony here

The hearings are an opportunity for the “invited guests” to educate the senators, speak to the media in the audience, and build support for their agenda.

The Manhattan session began with a packed room: Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Department of Education Chief Education Officer Shael Policoff-Suranky interacted with the Senators. (Read news story here)

The outcomes:

* State Education will be announcing a number of New York City
“listening sessions” for the commissioner around the state testing program
* State Education will be reducing the testing regimen – a little.
* Mulgrew strongly supported the Common Core and sharply criticized the implementation – especially linking the Common Core to the brand new, untried teacher evaluation system
* Mulgrew was especially critical of the lack of a state curriculum and urged the state to work to development a curriculum, acknowledging that the ultimate responsibility was at the local level.
* Mulgrew derided the “testing” of kindergarten students.
* Suransky defended the department efforts, this was year three of the five year Common Core rollout, defended the department and pointed to the expenditure of hundreds of millions to train teachers.
* Suransky, proudly, pointed to significantly higher teacher growth scores in New York City – well above the scores for the rest of the state, as well as growth in student scores.
* Suransky said that 5-6% of fifth and sixth graders could not complete the test – up from the 1-2% in previous years.

While the press coverage resulted in active live tweeting, sound bites on the radio and a few news stories the impact may be on the senators sitting on the panel.

Senator Flanagan was deft in his questioning, as were the other electeds on the panel.

The Board of Regents was created in the 18th century and is a unique system of governance. The members of the Board are elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State legislature, the governor has no role. The commissioner is selected by the Regents – the governor, once again, has no role. While the legislature and the governor fund the educational system throughout the state the executive and the legislative bodies have no voice in the creation of policies or the operation of the thousands of schools across seven hundred school districts, except to pass laws that would preempt regulations. It is an archaic and cumbersome machinery.

The Flanagan hearings could result in the introduction of proposed legislation, or, simply provide a forum for parents to vent.

John Flanagan is smart, popular, and, I would imagine ambitious. It will be interesting to see if the high profile forums lead to a more aggressive stance by the elected officials.

Pope Francis 1, John King, Merryl Tisch and Olive Branches: Will the Commisioner Learn from the Pope?

The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.
Albert Camus

Pope Francis 1, in an historic interview with a Jesuit newspaper offered an olive branch to lapsed Catholics. Pope after pope has decried social issues anathema to church doctrine: abortion, homosexuality, contraception, ordination of females, and the scandalous abnegation of responsibility for protection of sexual abusing priests.

For the first time in centuries a pope hinted that maybe, just maybe, the church was moving from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently …

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

Churches are empty and the new generation sees the church as an archaic institution.

Pope Francis is reaching across the aisle to lapsed Catholics; consider coming back to a church that is looking beyond the Inquisition.

Slate Magazine, perhaps overreaching, sees the pope as liberal, what does the interview tell us? It tells us the pope is a liberal. He’ll pull the church to the left, not just on sexuality, but on every issue that pits tradition against freedom or progress.

Just as Catholics are alienated from the church parents, teachers and principals have lost confidence in the leaders of education in New York State.

An incredibly dense principal-teacher evaluation plan that the folks in schools view as both punitive and random. State tests without curriculum seemingly purposely graded to assure low student grades, personal student data given to third party providers, without parental consent, to do with who knows what.

John Flanagan, the powerful chair of the Senate Education Committee is holding hearings around the state asking for input on the state education department initiatives, “The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing Our Progress.'”

The first of the four hearings, held on Long Island was sharply critical of the state agenda,

State Sen. John Flanagan, R-Long Island, chairman of the committee, said it was the first opportunity for the public to comment on the reforms. A few hundred people filled a small auditorium at Suffolk County Community College, cheering loudly as parents, teachers, senators and others questioned and ridiculed the state Education Department’s agenda … seven senators in attendance.

Many speakers questioned the results of the new state tests in English and math given in April. The state found that majorities of students across New York in grades 3 to 8 were not proficient in their subject matter.

“You should rethink your methodology,” state Sen. Jack Martins, R-Long Island, told Ken Wagner, associate state education commissioner. “I question statistics that say that 50 percent of our kids aren’t college-ready.”

Legislation to prevent the release of student data has been introduced into both houses of the state legislature.

A petition questioning the efficacy of the state principal-teacher evaluation law garnered over a thousand signatures from principals across the state.

The claim that the Common Core Learning Standards will change the core of teaching and learning is simply a claim, standards in the past have faded, the state tests keyed to the standards have been rejected by both professionals in schools and parents, the recent plan to tie teacher education programs to the performance of classroom teachers based on pupil test scores is looked upon with deep suspicion by the field.

Ignoring the practice of discharging poor performing or students with discipline problems from charter schools will result in the introduction of legislation to prevent the practice.

The initiatives of the Commissioner have become dogma, akin to Papal Infallibility, defined as,

… a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, … the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church”.

The seventeen members of the Board of Regents hire the commissioner and set education policy for the state, P-12 public schools as well as colleges, universities and the professions. The members of the Board are elected by a joint meeting of the state legislature, in the real world, elected by the democrats in the Assembly, which means the democratic leadership of the Assembly. In the last few years the republicans have boycotted the election of members of the Regents.

As the policies of the commissioner, the dogma, moves further and further away from the views of the public these policies become increasingly political, increasingly members of the legislature are responding to the dissatisfaction of the public.

The Flanagan hearings may result in the introduction of legislation; other legislators, seizing on public anger may introduce legislation. In the past the bills either died or passed only one house. It appears far more likely, especially in an election year that bills will pass both houses.

Will the governor, with an ear to the ground, continue to support the commissioner, or respond to an increasing bubbling anger? Perhaps he should look towards Governor Jerry Brown in California who is expected to sign a bill that tolls the clock on state tests for a year.

… a bill passed last week by the Legislature, and expected to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, to suspend most standardized tests … for a year … under this bill, nearly all students would take a field test of the new assessments … providing essential feedback to test developers trying to come up with a final version to be given starting in 2015.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to withhold some funding if California proceeds … To us, though, the lack of tests and scores next year seems a reasonable trade-off for educators to have desperately needed time to prepare for Common Core and to give more students exposure to the new tests, which won’t be scored in 2014.

While the pope is not relinquishing his apostolic authority he does realize that the church has lost its constituency. The commissioner seems to believe that his views have the power of supreme apostolic authority, to oppose the dogma is viewed as heresy. No olive branches, edict after edict that is questioned by the populace.

The members of the Regents, the equivalent of a College of Cardinals, selected the commissioner and for the last few years, with pushback by a few members, has supported doctrine after doctrine in spite of the increasing unease among parents, teachers and principals.

In the upcoming session of the legislature it is likely that the anger of the proletariat will empower the electeds to rein in the commissioner.

Sadly, the goals of the commissioner are shared by the wider public; the anger is more about the lack of olive branches, in fact, the use of branches as switches to flail children, parents and the teaching community, instead of creating true partnerships.

There is a vast literature on personal and organizational change, change cannot be imposed, cannot be embedded without the acceptance of the implementers of the process. It took the church centuries to understand that the public is fluid, attitudes evolve, and when an encyclical is rejected the populace drifts away. The pope may be acknowledging that the church must move towards its members, that it must evolve. If the Regents and the commissioner simply go through the motions and pass encyclical after encyclical, excuse me, regulation after regulation, that are poorly understood, and rejected by the field, the legislative process will respond to the public and reverse the initiatives.

It would be tragic, to quote Camus, “ … good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”