Tag Archives: John King

How Should We Evaluate/Assess/Rate Teacher Performance? (Maybe Peer Review)

We live in a world of assessment; let’s take a look at sports. Every major league baseball team has a group of data wonks who collect bits and pieces of data and create algorithms to assess and predict future performance. Once upon a time we could quote batting averages, home runs, earned run averages, now we’re overwhelmed by Wins Over Replacement (WAR), launch angle, etc… We live in the world of Sabermetrics (“A Guide to Sabermetrics Research”).  Every sport has its own set of data used to assess player performance and to predict outcomes.

If we work out we keep track of minutes on the treadmill, number of pull-ups and dips, deep knee bends,  we can measure our performance. We can keep track on our I-Phone or I-Watch. If we play golf: has our handicap dropped? Or, tennis: are we beating players we used to lose to?

Dancers and musicians practice with a coach, guided practice, and improve at their art.

Which raises the nurture/nature question?  Do some athletes and artists have encoded DNA that makes them a better athlete or musician, or, does 10,000 hours of practice produce excellence? Grit and determination or natural ability?

David Epstein, The Sport’s Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance explores,

The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training?

The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor’s training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell lays out the much quoted “10,000 hours rule,”  simply put: gaining mastery requires 10,000 hours of “deliberate” practice.

The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.

But a new Princeton study tears that theory down. In a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, the researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains.

In education, a 4% difference
In professions, just a 1% difference

In it, [the authors] argue that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best.

But in less stable fields, like entrepreneurship  [and teaching]… rules can go out the window… mastery is more than a matter of practice.

Teaching is a far more complex task: on one side the teacher, with whatever skills s/he possesses, on the other side twenty or thirty students with a wide range of life experiences: are they hungry, or bullied, or depressed, and, in the middle the content you’re expected to transmit to the students, content, or, standards, or a curriculum or a program, none of which you played a role in selecting. Almost ten years ago the Obama-Duncan administration decided  dense algorithms can be used to compare teachers to teachers who are teaching “similar” students, the tool is called Value-Added Measurement, referred to as VAM, it was rolled out as “we can use results on standardized test scores to rate and compare teachers.” John King, at that time the NYS Commissioner adopted the use of VAM combined with supervisory observations, to assess teacher performance.

The pushback was vigorous, Chancellor Merryl Tisch convened a summit, experts from around the country to discuss the efficacy of using the VAM tool. The experts were crystal clear, VAM was never intended to assess the performance of an individual teacher. The Board of Regents agreed upon a four year moratorium on the use of standardized test scores to assess teacher performance. Last week both house of the state legislature passed a bill returning the question of teacher assessment to school districts, with considerable pushback from parents who felt district would simply substitute another off-the-shelf test.

See my blog here

We should completely de-link teacher assessment from test results.

The Netherlands are among the highest achieving school systems in the OECD, 8,000 unionized public schools functioning like charter schools. the schools have extremely wide discretion in how they run. Read a detailed description here.

European school systems use an inspectorate system (See links in the blog here), the school supervisory authority sends teams of experts into schools to assess the functioning of the school.

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s New York State sent Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams into schools for a deep dive into the functioning of the school and produced highly specific (“Findings and Recommendations”) reports. I was the teacher union representative on many teams.

New York City conducts periodic Quality Review visits to schools, a type of inspectorate system.

Experienced educators conduct a two-day school visit. They observe classrooms, speak with parents, students, teachers, and school leaders. They use the Quality Review Rubric to help them examine the information they gather during the school visit.

After the school visit, a Quality Review Report is published on the school’s DOE webpage. The Quality Review Report rates the school on 10 indicators of the Quality Review Rubric. The report also describes areas of strength and areas of focus and has written feedback on six of the indicators. Information from this report is also used in the School Quality Snapshot.

The QR teams can be improved, they should be joint Department/Union teams and the union should play a role in constructing the Quality Review Rubric.

As far as the assessment of individual teachers we shouldn’t fear peer review, respected colleagues providing feedback.

Let me say, I’m not hopeful. At a recent live streamed town hall, (by invitation only), the mayor, the chancellor and the chancellor’s crew met with parent and community leaders from the Bronx. To a question about the large number of schools in a district the chancellor posited an additional deputy superintendent, and added, the press would attack him for bloating the administration, and, the oress would be correct. Level upon level of supervision “monitors” data: educational decisions should be made in schools not in distant offices. A parent worried, she was in her son’s 6th grade class and saw student work replete with frequent spelling errors, the deputy chancellor suggested a Google Spelling app, the parent sighed, “He’ll only want to play video games on the computer.” Maybe a sign the school has serious instructional issues?

Empowering schools and holding them accountable for their decisions make much more sense than measuring and punishing, and, BTW, resources matter they matter a great deal, and, any school assessment should factor in “poverty risk load.” (See discussion here ).

Figthing over whether a teacher is “developing” or “effective” is insane, maybe we should be working to create collaborative school communities in which school leaders, parents and teachers work together to craft better outcomes.

New Research: “Prospective Teachers Respond to Economic Incentives,” Absent “Economic Incentives,” How Can We Attract and Retain Teachers?

My principal at James Madison Hugh School was Henry Hillson, a classmate of Nelson Rockefeller at Dartmouth, Jules Kolodny was a founder and officer at the UFT, and he earned a law degree and a Phd in economics. They were products of the Great Depression, graduated from college in the 30’s, jobs were scarce, especially for Jews, and, entry into teaching required passing a rank order civil service examination. The teaching force was exemplary, in a more prosperous era they would have risen in the world of law, medicine, business or university academia.

With the reintroduction of the draft in the early 60’s teaching in a high poverty school came with a draft deferment, and, once again, college graduates heading toward other careers ended up in teaching. Some taught a few years and moved on, others, many of my workmates stayed in teaching. Three of my department members had Phd degrees.

In the 80’s and 90’s schools were desperate for teachers, the NYC Board of Education issued provisional, probationary teaching (PPT) certificates, requiring a handful of college credits, the pre-service literacy exam was deferred. In the mid-nineties, seventeen percent of teachers were PPT’s; teachers unable to pass a low level literacy examination.

Professor Martin West tweeted the results of his large research project, 30,000 third and fourth grade teachers in Florida and found,

“… teachers entering the profession during recessions are significantly more effective in raising student test scores…”

We exchanged tweets,

Peter Goodman‏ @edintheapple 20h20 hours ago

Replying to  @ProfMartyWest

The Great Depression drove the best and the brightest into teaching, and, with a Board of Examiners “blind” civil service exam and rank order appointments our teaching force in NYC was unparalleled

Martin West‏ @ProfMartyWest 20h20 hours ago

Replying to @edintheapple

This would be a very interesting historical parallel. While “more recessions” is not the right policy prescription, hiring more (or at least not fewer) teachers during recessions probably is.

West’s research only confirms what we already knew, outside options matter, economic downturns, the draft, impact job choices, and, during prosperous economic periods teachers are drawn from the “lower cognitive distribution” of college graduates.  The primary reasons are lower salaries, low status and the job itself.

… individuals entering the teaching profession in the United States tend to come from the lower part of the cognitive ability distribution of college graduates (Hanushek and Pace, 1995). One frequently cited reason for not being able to recruit higher-skilled individuals as teachers is low salaries compared to other professions (e.g., Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez, 2011; Hanushek et al., forthcoming).

Currently enrollment in teacher preparation programs are sharply down, fewer prospective teachers in the pipeline, additionally, the attrition rate among new teachers is depressingly high.

Linda Darling-Hammond at the Learning Policy Institute has conducted extensive research on why teachers leave,

  • inadequate preparation
  • lack of support for new teachers
  • challenging working conditions
  • dissatisfaction with compensation
  • better career opportunities
  • personal reasons

Why is our nation unable to hire and retain the most effective teachers?  Why have policies been so unsuccessful?

The NCATE (now known as CAEP), in a major report, “Transforming Teacher Education Through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers   (2010),” reports,

The education of teachers in the United States needs to be turned upside down. To prepare effective teachers for 21st century classrooms, teacher education must shift away from a norm which emphasizes academic preparation and course work loosely linked to school-based experiences. Rather, it must move to programs that are fully grounded in clinical practice and interwoven with academic content and professional courses. This demanding, clinically based approach will create varied and extensive opportunities for candidates to connect what they learn with the challenge of using it, while under the expert tutelage of skilled clinical educators. Candidates will blend practitioner knowledge with academic knowledge as they learn by doing. They will refine their practice in the light of new knowledge acquired and data gathered about whether their students are learning.

 In order to make this change, teacher education programs must work in close partnership with school districts to redesign teacher preparation to better serve prospective teachers and the students they teach. Partnerships should include shared decision making and oversight on candidate selection and completion by school districts and teacher education programs.

 New York State moved in a different direction, the State Education Department (SED) under Commissioner John King “solved” the problem by requiring four examinations; eight years later there is no evidence that the exams have approved teacher effectiveness. Over the last few months SED has presented increases in clinical preparation hours, the Board of Regents had doubts and the resolution was withdrawn.

My suggestions:

I agree that teacher education programs must work in close partnerships with school districts, I would add teacher unions; excluding teacher unions is foolish, pre-service teaching candidates will become teachers and teacher union members, to include unions gives the stamp of approval and increases the chances that teachers will volunteer to work as cooperating teachers.

In New York City the Teaching Fellows program has been around for twenty-five years, an alternative certification program targeting career changers in shortage areas; the program has been highly successful. The new Men Teach program, in its third year targets men of color already accepted into four-year CUNY campuses. There is increasing evidence the positive impact of teachers of color, especially males.

The alternative certification programs referenced supra should be replicated in the SUNY colleges around the state.

Teacher preparation programs in the senior year should be sited in schools. School districts and colleges should identify schools in which to cluster student teachers and the accompanying coursework should be taught at the school sites, the prospective teachers should become part of the school community.

Newly appointed probationary teachers need high quality teacher mentors, unfortunately there is no training for mentors.

The Board of Regents/State Education passes resolutions, policies that too often do not impact classrooms,

I’m constantly told, why can’t we just be like Finland, well, not so easy,

 High quality teachers are the hallmark of Finland’s education system. Annual national opinion polls have repeatedly shown that teaching is Finland’s most admired profession, and primary school teaching is the most sought-after career. The attractiveness of teaching likely has much more to do with the selection process, the work itself, and the working conditions than teacher pay (which is similar to that in many other European countries) or simply respect for teachers. Because Finland has very high standards that must be met to enter teacher preparation programs, just getting in is a prestigious accomplishment.

 While teaching in Finland is one of the most highly regarded professions, teaching in our nation the opposite, with prospective teachers drown from lower “cognitive ability” candidates.

What we can do is to try and replicate the Finnish education in the communities with the highest poverty and lowest achievement. Candidates paid a stipend during training, research-based instruction/training, a mentorship pathway from apprentice to teacher. Yes, expensive; however, many times less expensive than the endless remedial instruction that we now depend upon, without much to show at the end of the journey.

 

 

Repairing Broken Teacher Preparation Programs: Hiring Unprepared Teachers or Fixing a Broken System: A Vital Task for the Board of Regents

The agenda for the September Regents meeting contains a shocking resolution: the state will allow school districts to hire substitute teachers without a valid teaching certificate. How is this possible? Schools can bypass teachers who have spent years studying and hire anyone to become a teacher? Should we be outraged? What’s going on?

The state is still suffering from ill-advised decisions by former commissioner John King.

There are two ways of creating institutional change: either force the change through and defend or work with stakeholders (“Participation Reduces Resistance”) to develop a level of consensus. Building consensus is time-consuming with many bumps along the road, using the power of an office to change policy can anger and alienate stakeholders as  well as result in unintended consequences.

The Obama administration “took on” the education establishment, from state departments of education to teacher unions, an attempt to remake the education landscape. The Race to the Top dangled $4.4 billion in competitive grants if states agreed to create teacher evaluation plans based on growth in student test scores and increase the number of charter schools.  Additionally, the administration supported increasing the quality of new teacher candidates. In New York State Commissioner King pushed through the Board of Regents a dramatic change in teacher preparation requirements. Teacher candidates would have to pass four examinations in order to receive a teaching certificate in New York State.

EdTPA, “The edTPA requires a lengthy electronic portfolio that includes written work and videos of candidates interacting with K-12 students. Obtaining parental consent is required for video recording…. All edTPA materials must be submitted to Pearson, Inc. through web-based platforms. Pearson, Inc. scores the edTPA,” Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) is a three and a half hour general knowledge test containing both multiple choice and essay questions (see sample questions here) Educating All Students (EAS), a multiple choice and essay test specifically asking questions regarding students with special needs and English language learners, and, a Content Specialty Test (CST), also a three hour test, containing both multiple choice and essay questions specific to the candidates certification area.

The four tests cost about $1,000 plus additional costs for study guides and prep sessions.

The union representing college teachers at the State Universities oppose the tests, as an intrusion on academic freedom.

In reality the tests have turned college teacher preparation programs into test prep mills. Not only are the tests required for teacher certification; college will be “judged” by the state based on candidate pass rates.

The results on the exams have been so catastrophic that the state has created a safety net for candidates.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped drastically, across New York State enrollment has dropped between 20 of 40 percent. Failure rates on the exams are highest among students of color and students whose native language is other than English; candidates that the state especially wants to attract into teaching.

The unintended result has been that instead of increasing the quality of teacher preparation candidates the state has created a growing teacher shortage across the state necessitating allowing persons without valid teaching certificates to work as substitute teachers. Instead of increasing the quality of teachers the state is allowing completely unprepared teachers into classrooms,

With the departure of King the Regents are moving to remedy the ill-advised policy.

Regent Cashin, the chair of the Higher Education Committee has held hearings across the state, with hundreds of participants from both public and private colleges. Slowly the educational establishment has moved toward a consensus.

Hopefully over the next few months the Regents will reduce the number of examinations and perhaps revise the content of the tests.

Whether the imposition of the tests was even necessary is open to question.

The Council on the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) has spent a number of years, with widespread involvement of the national education community developing standards that would apply to all teacher preparation programs including raising the bar for entrants to programs. In fact, with the requirement that teacher preparation programs undergo periodic CAEP reviews why is it necessary for states to impose additional requirements on teacher preparation candidates?

Programs generally agree that the edTPA, embedded within teacher educations programs is a useful tool, the other exams are highly questionable. There is no evidence that grades on the exams have any correlation with success in the classroom.

Teachers, and their unions, have been under unrelenting pressure from the so-called reformers, rather than leading to changes that will improve teaching and learning the “teacher bashing” has chased potential candidates away from the profession, and, maybe, the candidates that you most want to attract.

When Arnie Duncan and John King raced to change the face of teaching; they jumped at untested, ill-advised ideas and, as it turns out, producing counterproductive policies.

Hopefully, in New York State, the Regents will repair the damage done by the previous educational leadership.

Getting It Right: Building a Research-Based Teacher Assessment System

A couple of years ago I was participating in a Danielson Training Workshop, two Saturdays in a room filled with principals and network support folk. We watched a video of part of a lesson – we were told we were watching a first year teacher in November in a high school classroom.

Under the former Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory rating system the lesson was clearly satisfactory. The Danielson Frameworks (Read the 115-page NYSED document here) requires that teachers are rated on a four-point scale (Distinguished, Proficient, Basic and Unsatisfactory) while New York State also requires a four point scale (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective). The Frameworks divides the teaching process into four domains, 22 components and 76 elements.

The instructor asked us to rate the lesson: at my table we were all over the place. For a teacher in the third month of her first year of teaching the lesson was excellent – clearly “proficient.”  Others argued the time in teaching was irrelevant, you had to rate her against all other teachers regardless of experience – at best, she was “developing.” Inter-rater reliability was absent.

Decades ago the union sent me to an Educational Testing Service conference on teacher assessment; about thirty experienced superintendents from all over the Northeast, and me, one union guy. We began by watching three 15-minutes videos of lessons: one an “old-fashioned” classroom, the kids sitting in rows, the kids answered teacher questions, the kids stood when they answered; the questions were at a high level although a small number of kids dominated the discussion. In the other video kids were sitting at tables, the teacher asked a question, gave the kids a few minutes to “huddle,” and one of the kids answered for the group and the teacher followed up with a few clarifying questions, in the third classroom the kids were at stations around the room, it was noisy, the noise was the kids discussing the assignment, the teacher flitted around the room, answering, clarifying and asking questions.

We were asked to rate the lesson on a provided checklist.

The result: the superintendent ratings were all over the place.

I was serving as the teacher union rep on a Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team – we were visiting a low performing school. We were told to wait, the principal was busy, four of the 50 teachers were absent and there were three vacancies, the principal was assigning classroom coverages.

At the initial get acquainted session a team member, considering the staffing issues asked, “What are the primary qualities you look for in assessing teacher quality?” The principal blurted, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”

A colleague was touring a school with very high test scores.  As he walked the building with the principal, he saw uniformly “mediocre” instruction – teacher-dominated, no student engagement. He mentioned the low quality of instruction to the principal, who shrugged, “Why mess with success?”

Once again, there is no inter-rater reliability.

In a number of school districts across the state almost all teachers received maximum observation ratings.

The State Ed folk simply accept the observation ratings of principals and school districts.

Charlotte Danielson, in her other book, Talk About Teaching  (September, 2015), discusses the complex role of the principal as rater as well as staff developer: how can a principal, who is the summative evaluater honestly engage with teachers who they rate?

In an excellent article from the Center for Educator Compensation Reform, Measuring and Promoting Inter-Rater Agreement of Teacher and Principal Performance Ratings (February, 2012), the authors parse the reliability of teacher observation ratings. There are a number of statistical tools to assess reliability – the state uses none of them.

In New York State 60% of a teacher rating is made up of the teacher observation score, and, we have no idea of the accuracy of the rating.

In the pre-Race to the Top days, the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory rating days, the entire rating was dependent on the observation – in the last year of Bloomberg term 2.7% of teachers in New York City received Unsatisfactory ratings, under the current far more complex system that incorporates student tests scores and other measures of student growth only 1% of teachers were rated ineffective (Read a description of the plan:  APPR 3012-c).

Under the newest  system the other 40% is a combination of Measures of Student Learning and Student Learning Objectives, the use of state test scores is suspended until the 2019-20 school year.

Read a detailed description of the current APPR 3012-d teacher evaluation law here and a lengthy Power Point here.

In May, 2015 the Regents convened a Learning Summit and asked a number of experts to discuss the use of student growth scores (VAM): Watch the lengthy, sometime contentious discussion  here.

With one exception the experts criticized the use of student growth scores (VAM), the VAM scores did not meet the tests of “validity,” “reliability” and “stability.”

There have been glaring errors in the system. In the Sheri Lederman law suit  a teacher had very high observation scores and due to the composition of her class, very low student growth scores. The judge ruled the use of the growth scores, in the individual case, was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The APPR plan negotiated in New York City, on the other hand, allows for appeals by a neutral third party, and, the “neutral” has overturned appeals in which there was a wide disparity between the observation and VAM scores.

The current plan, created by the governor and approved by the legislature has been rejected by teachers and parents. Teachers are convinced that their score is dependent on the ability of the students they teach, not their competence. Parents feel schools are forced to “teach to the test” due to the consequences facing principals and teachers.

Angry parents, angry teachers and principals and a governor and a legislature looking for a way out of the box they created.

And, a cynicism from elements among the public – if two-thirds of kids are “failing” state tests how is it possible that only one percent of principals and teachers are rated “ineffective?”

The Board of Regents has been tasked with finding the “right” plan.

There has been surprisingly little research and public discussion of teacher attrition – in high poverty schools staggering percentages of teachers, 30%, 40%, 50% or more leave within their first few years.

The December, 2015, Cuomo Commission Task Force, in a scathing report, tasked the Regents with “correcting” what has been a disastrous path. Partially the governor creating an incredibly complex teacher evaluation matrix and partially the Commissioner King rushing to adopt the common core, common core testing and teacher evaluation simultaneously.

Can the Regents separate political decisions from research-based and guided decisions? Can the Regents move from the John King path, an emotion-guided political path to actually following “what the research says”?

On Tuesday the new Research Work Group, chaired by Regent Johnson will convene for the first time.

The roadmap for the State Ed Department and the Board of Regents are the twenty-one recommendations of the Cuomo Common Core Task Force. A number of the recommendations: untimed testing, an in-depth review from the field of the standards, greater transparency of the test items, alternatives to the use of examinations for students with disabilities, and, the beginning of an review of teacher evaluation are already in progress.

The Commissioner and the Regents have to regain a lost credibility: from policy emanating from the Gates Foundation and the so-called reformers to policies guided by scholarship and supported by parents and educators.

Who Are the Opt Out Parents? Why Has The Movement Accelerated So Quickly? What is the Future and the Impact?

This week kids in grades three through eight in New York State will begin taking federally mandated tests that are used to assess school progress, or, lack thereof. The results can be used to transform, redesign or close schools and layoff teachers, or, reward schools and teachers with additional dollars.  Many parents will opt to have their kids skip the tests.

In the years ahead sociologists, political scientists and doctoral candidates will explore the phenomenon of opt out parents.

The parents of one in five students opted their children out of taking state tests last year; tests that were routinely administered for a dozen years.

Tests are deeply embedded in history; Chinese Imperial examinations  originated in the Han Dynasty and the system spread to other Asian nations.

…  the exams were based on knowledge of the classics and literary style, not technical expertise, successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, one shared even by those who failed. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule.

While the Imperial exams ended in 1905 the respect for education and an exam system is alive and well. Stuyvesant High School, an elite high school in New York City that requires a rigorous entrance examination, is overwhelmingly Asian. The school is 72% Asian and less than 1% Black.

No one opt outs of the bar exam.

The passage of the New York Bar Exam is required to practice law in New York State – in 2015 79% of test takers passed, the lowest percent in a decade. The Bar Exam has been frequently criticized,

For too long the unregulated monopoly of the testing industry has masqueraded as the self-appointed guardian of professional standards.

Many argue that a student’s GPA is a far better indicator of knowledge than the score on a bar exam; however, the bar exam remains the essential credential required for the practice of law.

Prior to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law all students in grade 4 and 8 took English and Math exams, the city also gave exams as did school districts.

The state exams school scores were published in major newspapers and schools with declining scores faced close scrutiny. In the late eighties the Board of Education began to close low performing schools and create replacement small high schools. The staffs in the closed schools could apply for positions in the successor schools or choose to be excessed to a cluster of schools of their choice.

For a decade every student in grade 4 through 8 took the required English and Math tests, I never knew that there was the possibility of opting out. If the participation rate in the school and in sub-groups in the school were lower than 95% the school faced undefined sanctions.

Teachers have been arguing that the annual testing regimen is simply unnecessary.

Standardized tests are unnecessary because they rarely show what we don’t already know. Ask any teacher and she can tell you which students can read and write.

On the other hand the civil rights community avers that annual testing, especially of the poorest children, children of color and children with disabilities is essential. Wade Henderson, the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights testified at a congressional hearing on the reauthorization of ESEA,

Federal investments are unlikely to result in meaningful gains unless they are accompanied by unequivocal demands for higher achievement, higher graduation rates, and substantial closing of achievement gaps … … This is why it is so important that ESEA continue to include strong requirements for assessments and accountability … Accountability is a core civil rights principle …

…high quality, statewide annual assessments are needed. It is imperative that parents, teachers, school leaders, public officials and the public have objective, unbiased information on how their students are performing. ESEA must continue to require annual, statewide, assessments for all students (in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school) that are aligned with, and measure each student’s progress toward meeting the state’s college and career readiness standards.

The civil rights community strongly supports the continuation of annual tests and the newly passed ESSA law continues annual testing.

With the administration of the 2015 round of testing the opt out movement exploded across New York State as well as in other states: what changed?

Who are the opt outs?

The parents choosing to opt out are in suburban, white, higher achieving schools as well a small number of white, higher income, higher achieving schools in New York City.

What triggered the opt out wave?

The NYS Commissioner of Education John King imposed Common Core state exams, the seventy plus percent proficiency scores on the previous tests nosedived to thirty plus percent proficiency rates.  2/3 of students “passing” suddenly became 2/3 of children “failing.” As parent outrage bubbled over King decided to go on a listening tour – first stop: Poughkeepsie. The raucous meeting  was a disaster (Watch highlights here) and the commissioner canceled his listening tour and blamed outside agitators.

Why the passion and the anger?

An Afro-American commissioner who was in his thirties, who sent his children to a private school was telling parents that their kids were failures; was telling parents that superintendents, principals and teachers, who they liked and trusted were failing their children.  I believe parents felt disrespected, their parenting skills were being challenged.  The pent-up anger exploded.

Did the frustration over the perceived failures of government trigger the anger? Why should dysfunctional politicians in Washington or Albany tell us how to run our schools? Why should they be able to brand our children as failures? And, by the way, will these tests prevent our kids from getting into the college of their choice? Just as many in the electorate blame Wall Street and the banks for the economic ills of the nation was the vast testing industry manipulating policy to enrich themselves?

How does the Opt Out movement impact politics?

The opt out parents are not Republicans or Democrats – they are simply anti-testing, and, testing is beyond the ability of local or state electeds to impact. A frustrated state elected official asked me, “Is there a bill number? How do I satisfy these parents?” The governor, after aggressively interfering in education has backed away, the Democratic leader of the Assembly has passed the baton to new members of the Board of Regents.

So far, opting out has had no consequences, the feds have ignored the fact that schools in New York State are below the required 95% participation rate.

Will the opt out movement continue to build momentum, or fade away?  Will the feds accept competency-based testing (CBE) as “annual testing”? While the exams are required will the opt outs make the exams de facto voluntary?

The test results will be available in July, numbers of opt outs probably in June.

Adieu Chancellor Tisch: Some Thoughts

 

Resolution 1078

NOLAN

LEG. RESO. – Honoring Dr. Merryl M. Tisch for her many years of distinguished service to the New York State Board of Regents

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The magisterial New York State Assembly Chamber “designed in a Moorish Gothic” is a truly impressive room; a high vaulted ceiling with stained glass windows allowing the light to be cast across the room. From September through June the 150 members gather to debate and pass bills and resolutions. On Thursday a resolution flashed across the screen honoring Dr. Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents and Monday, March 21st will be her last meeting; her term expires at the end of March.

Member after member rose to extol the tenure of the Chancellor, a tenure that has been characterized by both sweeping changes in the role of the board and controversy.

Tisch has served on the board for twenty years and was elected by her colleagues as chancellor in 2009.

Commissioner Mills left under a cloud and the Tisch board selected David Steiner as commissioner. Traditionally commissioners had been selected from among the senior superintendents in the state. Steiner was Dean of the School of Education at Hunter College. Almost unnoticed the board selected as deputy commissioner a young scholar with no experience in public schools, John King.  The leaders of education in the State of New York with no experience running a school district.

Tisch and Steiner jumped headfirst into the swirling pool of education reform trumpeted by the White House. An application for the Race to the Top dollars and the crafting of a teacher evaluation plan were launched.

At an ABNY breakfast attended by the educational glitterati keynote speaker Randi Weingarten urged John King, who replaced Steiner after his precipitous resignation, to delay the implementation of the teacher evaluation plan – a moratorium.

Tisch and King rejected the suggestion – the move to the full implementation of the Common Core, testing and test result-based teacher evaluation moved forward.

The Common Core and the teacher evaluation plans were increasingly resisted by active parents and the teacher union.

A  NY Times appraisal of Tisch’s tenure begins, “She tried to do too much, too fast.”

The article goes on,

If she could take one thing back, Dr. Tisch said, it would be having rolled out the standards and the teacher evaluation system at the same time, “because I think the debate over how to evaluate a teacher contaminated the more important work.”

Dr. Tisch said she believed that the anger about the standards was stoked by the state teachers’ union, which fought the evaluation system, and noted that most of those who opted out came from wealthier suburban districts.

Last year the legislature dumped longtime allies of the chancellor and selected four new members who were clearly critical of the teacher evaluation system. The troubles of Assembly Speaker Shelton Silver, a friend of Tisch since childhood changed the chemistry in the legislature as the new speaker wanted to ameliorate the conflicts with parents and teachers.

In retrospect there is no evidence that the Common Core is an “answer” to struggling schools populated by students of color. The academic community has increasingly chided testing associated with the standards.

The Washington Post writes,

More than 100 education researchers in California have joined in a call for an end to high-stakes testing, saying that there is no “compelling” evidence to support the idea that the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of education for children or close the achievement gap, and that Common Core assessments lack “validity, reliability and fairness.”

The dense teacher evaluation algorithms have been sharply criticized by most experts in the world of statistics.

Yes, rolling out both the Common Core, Common Core testing and teacher evaluation at the same time doomed the initiatives from the start, a larger question is whether jumping on board the White House driven reforms would ever achieve the anticipated goals. At the time it might have made sense to be the “first in the nation” to adopt the Obama education plan, in retrospect, a mistake.

In my view Tisch fell victim to the same wave that has vaulted Donald Trump to the top of the presidential primaries. The anger, the disgust with all politics, the “snarkiness,” has rolled over the reforms coming from the Board of Regents. The anger of the opt-outs, the anger of the mass of voters is intertwined.

Other actions of the chancellor have gone underreported.

Tisch made every attempt to thwart the plundering of schools by an Orthodox School Board in East Ramapo. She forced reluctant school boards to register undocumented minors and provide an appropriate education, in spite of substantial local opposition.  The chancellor has visited scores of schools, frequently accompanied by a Regents member who was a former superintendent.  She has acknowledged the glowing jewels in the system, i. e. the Internationals Network of schools that serve new immigrants with wonderful results. After years of delays the regulations impacting English language learners were promulgated.

Regents meetings are usually one speaker after another, one power point after another with comments only from the members of the board. Merryl frequently interrupts a speaker with an incisive question. Whether the commissioner, a state ed staffer or a guest Tisch “cuts to the core;” she asked the crucial question, a question that commonly resulted in the speaker stumbling.  (I loved it!!)

Critics of Tisch are legion, and clearly she made decisions that in retrospect required more thought and more buy-in. Chancellors are selected by their colleagues; however, the governor and the legislature have enormous power; for the last two years major education policy was set by the governor.  The major current policy initiatives are the twenty “recommendations” of the Cuomo Task Force. The board may be the constitutional body to devise education policy – in the “real world” the governor is the major player.

As March draws to a close the legislature and the governor will agree upon a budget. Over the last decade budgets have eroded funding to the State Education Department, a subtle way of expressing disagreement with the policies of the board.  The legislature doesn’t need angry voters and the governor wants to both take credit for successes and avoid negative electoral consequences.

Merry Tisch fell victim to a generalized dissatisfaction that is sweeping the nation.

I read an Internet cry, “We want a president who will make America great again,” which received a response, “Do you mean when basketball stars were white?”  Race, gender, class and generational conflict have spilled over – Merryl Tisch fell victim to the anger.

The next leader of the Regents faces a daunting task.

Why Did the Republican-Controlled Senate Confirm John King As Secretary of Education?

John King, the former Education Commissioner in New York State, was dumped by Governor Cuomo who also enabled him to move on to the Senior Advisor to Secretary of Education Duncan, and, when Secretary Duncan resigned after seven years President Obama appointed King as Acting Secretary, and, with the support of the Republican majority nominated him as Secretary of Education.

The Senate confirmed King: 49 – 40. (See roll call here)

The “No” votes were 39 Republicans and one Democrat – Kristen Gillibrand from New York State. The “Yes” votes were all Democrats and seven senior Republicans.

Eleven Senators failed to vote: the three presidential candidates (Sanders, Cruz and Rubio), the two Ohio Senators, campaigning for the Tuesday primary.

In this toxic partisan political climate how were the two parties able to work together to confirm King?

In the House the Tea Party rules; if the forty plus Tea Party Republicans oppose a bill it will not come to the floor. A Speaker who requires Democratic votes to pass a bill simply would not survive. While the Republicans hold an overwhelming majority the emergence of the Tea Party voting bloc divides the House into three factions, the “traditional” Republicans, the Tea Party faction and the Democrats. The Tea Party Republicans may only represent forty of the 435 members; they control the flow of legislation.

The Senate has a far different culture.  The rules of the Senate require sixty votes for a bill to move to the floor, the opposition party, today the Democrats, can prevent a vote on any bill. While the Republicans are a majority, and control the flow of legislation and control the ultimate vote on the floor the rules allow the Democrats to prevent bills from coming to the floor. The cloture rule requires sixty votes and the Senate currently is composed of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents (Sanders and King of Maine) who caucus with the Democrats.

The Senate is a highly collegial body – the Republicans and the Democrats need each other for the institution to function – relationships matter. The leadership – McConnell on the Republican side and Reid on the Democratic side may jab at each other, members work together to pass legislation.

Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, a Republican and a Democrat decided that they were going to lead the way to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind, they were able to use both powers of persuasion and the collegial nature of the Senate to craft a bill that satisfied the needs of members from both sides of the aisle.

The confirmation of King was a continuation of the Alexander-Murray collaboration. How often do you see the two Republican leaders of the Senate, McConnell and Cornyn joining Democrats to approve a bill, or, in this case, a confirmation? The answer is never, or, let’s says never except in the case of the confirmation of John King. Lamar Alexander convinced the Republican leadership, and, a few other colleagues that he “needed” their votes. The McConnell message to the Republican troops – yes, you can vote “No” on the confirmation – we have enough votes to satisfy Lamar.

On the Democratic side only Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Senator from New York voted “No;” a tribute to the power of the opt out parents. Over 200,000 parents opted their children out of the federally required state tests, these parents were Republicans and Democrats, and the action was a political action not affiliated with a political party. The opt outs in New York have become a political movement and Gillebrand responded to the cries of the opt outs. Grass roots politics works!!

Gillibrand responded to a bubbling anger, anger, so far, not directed at a particular candidate in any particular election. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, withdrew his harsh teacher evaluation plan and supported a list off “recommendations” adopted by the Board of Regents in an attempt to mollify the opt outs. Gillibrand, a smart politician, listening to the crowd, voted “No” on the King confirmation.

Why was Gillibrand the only dissenting Democrat?

Simply put – national politics.

Afro-American voters are the key for a Democratic victory in November, and, a key to a Clinton nomination. A “No” on King could discourage Afro-American Democratic voters from voting in the Democratic column.

Over the next few months a negotiated rule-making process (Read the very interesting process here) will result in the promulgation of the regulations implementing the new ESSA statute. The new Secretary of Education, John King will decide on the final rules.

Lamar Alexander and presidential politics allowed the Senate to confirm King.

Alexander secured his place in history and his Republican colleagues, after voting to approve the original ESSA bill were able to continue to express displeasure with the president by voting against his appointee.

Hamilton (Federalist # 9) and Madison (Federalist # 10) both grappled with the issue of factions. Madison wrote,

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction

Today our three branches of government appear to be faltering as “violence of faction” impedes the ability to govern, in this single instance the factions were satisfied and the system worked.