Tag Archives: John King

Untimed Tests. Fewer Questions: Will the Opt Out Families Be Assuaged? Suggestion: A Comprehensive Plan, Not Piecemeal Fixes

Within the last few days superintendents across New York State received a missive from Commissioner Elia announcing the federally required grades 3-8 English and math tests would have fewer questions and the testing would be untimed.

The announcement was a surprise, and, sharply criticized by the New York Post,

Fewer questions makes for a less-meaningful test — especially since the state inevitably “disqualifies” several questions every year after students have taken the exams.

Far worse, she’s ordered that the tests no longer be timed.

This is lunacy. Nowhere in the world do standardized exams come without time limits (though New York makes an exception for kids with certain disabilities).

You can make a case for giving all kids a bit more time — but killing limits makes no sense. It may help more children “pass,” but it won’t help any get a better education.

Tests are about gauging a student’s knowledge and skills — including the skill of time-management. Without time limits, they’re a far less accurate measure.

While the Post is virulently anti-teacher union and curmudgeonly; they’re not all wrong.

The release of the report of the Cuomo Task Force in December contained twenty recommendations, one of which related to the timing of tests. including

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

At the December meeting the Board of Regents voted (with Regent Tisch casting the only dissenting vote) to accept the report.

Instead of a “formal review,” as recommended by the Task Force the Commissioner announced that the spring tests would be untimed. Students with disabilities, if their Individual Education Plan (IEP) directs, already have extended time. English language learners with more than one year in the country must take the same tests as all other students and time limits may adversely impact their performance. The decision to lift the timed nature of the test for all students was surprising.

The reduction in the number of questions is an issue for the test makers, the psychometricians who design the tests. How many questions are required to produce a valid, reliable and stable exam?  Commissioner Elia, in defending the importance of the tests, argues that the tests indicate progress or lack thereof for students, individually, by grade, school and school district. With the information, the test results, teachers can adjust instruction to emphasize areas of poorer performance as well as highlight instructional practices that resulted in better performance.  Hopefully we embed assessment into our daily practice, usually referenced  as formative assessment, aka,  “…diagnostic testing, a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”  The state tests are summative assessments, tests that “measure” output, the teaching/learning process over a school year. For the school community  the only use of the tests is to “grade” individual principals, teachers and schools; using the summative assessment to fire (or reward) principals and teachers and to close schools.

The Cuomo Task Force, correctly, called for halting the practice until a new system can be crafted for the 2019-2020 school year.

This has been an odd year characterized by the Governor’s metamorphosis: from the angry, retributive April leader who punished teachers, principals and schools to the collaborative December leader who calls for a thoughtful approach to rethinking and restarting the revision process with the stakeholders: the education community. The twenty Task Force recommendations (see below) incorporate the wide range of criticisms that have swept across the state since the ill-considered John King attempt to impose change. Change is a process, change can be uncomfortable, change requires a space to discuss and debate, a space to acclimate ourselves to changes in direction.

The Task Force has provided us with that space – a number of years to find our path.

The Commissioner is anxious to start the process, and let’s be honest, anxious to reduce the number of opt out families.

If the reason to move precipitously to untimed tests is an attempt to assuage the opt out parents the commissioner is mistaken.

While it may be an unintended consequence (or, maybe not!!) summative testing as measured by year-end test scores drives classroom practice – if you don’t  “prepare” kids for the tests teachers and principals risk a low score and the dire consequences – test prep rules.  We continue to search for the happy median, rich, engaging classrooms in which students make progress both on measurable scales as well as the probably unmeasurable social and emotional scales.

One approach is to move from end of year summative assessment, the current system, to a performance task assessment conducted throughout the school year. In a thoughtful essay the new testing company, Quester, discusses the pros and cons (Read essay here)

A performance assessment is a test in which a student performs some number of tasks to show his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities in a particular area, such as conducting a science experiment. That is, a student must show how to solve a problem using what he or she knows about the assessment prompt. The best performance assessments are authentic, which is when the task is realistic and is considered something that would be done in the real world,

A performance task assessment system would require substantial changes in day-to-day classroom practices – I encourage the commissioner to explore, a pilot program in a few districts.

A far more radical change is a move to competency-based groupings, personalized learning, and incorporating technology into the core instructional process – highly controversial (Read a Quester essay here)

 … meet a number of 21st century teaching needs such as individualized and personalized instruction, personalized learning, competency-based grouping and progression, seamless blending of instruction and assessment, and timely impact of assessment results to affect instruction.

Do we believe we can create summative assessments, year-end tests that will be both accepted by parents and teachers as well as fit the needs of the State Ed, school districts, schools and teachers?

Are performance task assessments better indicators of student progress and more useful to teachers and parents?  Or, so complex and burdensome that the effort will not be fruitful?

Are we finally reaching a point when technology can be seamlessly blended with traditional classroom instruction?  Or, are we once again casting aside the social and emotional needs of children?

Let’s begin the discussion before we all hold hands and jump into the pool.

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Cuomo Task Force Recommendations

Recommendation 1: Adopt high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through an open and transparent process.

Recommendation 2: Modify early grade standards so they are age-appropriate.

Recommendation 3: Ensure that standards accommodate flexibility that allows educators to meet the needs of unique student populations, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

Recommendation 4: Ensure standards do not lead to the narrowing of curriculum or diminish the love of reading and joy of learning.

Recommendation 5: Establish a transparent and open process by which New York standards are periodically reviewed by educators and content area experts.

Develop Better Curriculum Guidance and Resources

Recommendation 6: Ensure educators and local school districts have the flexibility to develop and tailor curriculum to the new standards.

Recommendation 7: Release updated and improved sample curriculum resources.

Recommendation 8: Launch a digital platform that enables teachers, including pre-service teachers, and teacher educators, to share resources with other teachers across the state.

Recommendation 9: Create ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers, teacher educators, and administrators on the revised State standards.

Significantly Reduce Testing Time and Preparation and Ensure Tests Fit Curriculum and Standards

Recommendation 10: Involve educators, parents, and other education stakeholders in the creation and periodic review of all State standards-aligned exams and other State assessments.

Recommendation 11: Gather student feedback on the quality of the new tests.

Recommendation 12: Provide ongoing transparency to parents, educators, and local districts on the quality and content of all tests, including, but not limited to publishing the test questions.

Recommendation 13: Reduce the number of days and shorten the duration for standards-aligned State standardized tests.

Recommendation 14: Provide teachers with the flexibility and support to use authentic formative assessments to measure student learning.

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

Recommendation 16: Provide flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities

. Recommendation 17: Protect and enforce testing accommodations for Students with Disabilities.

Recommendation 18: Explore alternative options to assess the most severely disabled students.

Recommendation 19: Prevent students from being mandated into Academic Intervention Services based on a single test.

Recommendation 20: Eliminate double testing for English Language Learners

Imagine 200,000 Former Opt-Out Parents Opting In to Support a Regents/Commissioner Initiative? Participation Reduces Resistance, Ownership Builds Trust

I was serving on a Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team; the state designated the lowest performing schools in the state that were getting worse. A decade earlier the school had been praised because of achievement working with immigrant students; a former principal had written a book about the achievements of the school. A decade later the school was stumbling. The SURR team pointed out a number of practices that clearly were not working. We asked the school why these practices existed; the answer: because we’ve always done it that way. The core education philosophy was Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia. (An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

Organizations resist change – external efforts to change long embedded policies and practices are viewed with suspicion, are viewed as punishment regardless of the efficacy of the new idea.

In fact, the larger the organization the more adept they are at deflecting change; whether externally imposed or the result of a new leader.

The organization is like a lump of silly putty, they can stick your finger into the putty and make a deep indentation, slowly but surely the lump returns to its former configuration.

I was sitting at a School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting. The teachers and parents had a suggestion (I forget the actual suggestion), the principal demurred, “It’ll never work,” after a while the principal agreed to go along, “I’ll go along if you we can agree on a way of assessing whether this idea works.”

Later I asked the principal whether he actually thought the staff could make the idea work, “Of course they will, they own the idea.”

Two rules of personal and organizational change:

* Change is perceived as punishment
* Participation reduces resistance

For the John King years teachers were told again and again that they had to change the way they were teaching, that the state was going to change the way teachers were assessed, one change after another imposed on teachers and teachers pushed back. A classic example of change perceived as punishment.

The governor, the Regents and the new commissioner are scrambling to win back teachers and parents. Three-quarters of the school districts in the state have been granted waivers from meeting the 11/15 deadline for negotiating a new teacher evaluation plan; the commissioner and the governor agree that the Common Core needs some changes, the tests will be shorter, more test items will be released, a number of small changes, an attempt to mollify alienated parents and teachers.

These will not be successful unless the Regents and the commissioner make changes in their procedures.

Virtually every school board meeting around the state offers the public an opportunity to walk up to a microphone and speak for a few minutes. School board meetings can routinely be viewed on local TV stations: except the Board of Regents meetings.

The opening session is webcast – the committee meetings, while open to the public are not webcast. There is no provision at any meeting for the public to make comments. After a policy is adopted it is sent out for public comment, and, at its discretion, the commissioner/Regents can alter the policy reflecting the public comment. The process is clunky and drags out over months.

The entire Regents meeting, the full meetings of the Board and the committee meetings should be webcast and archived.

Transparency is essential. The debates that take place in the committee meetings are the heart and core of the meetings, the members engage in a back-and-forth dialogue about the issue at hand. The public must have the opportunity to observe the creating of policy, not just the result of the deliberations.

The public must be given an opportunity to speak at Regents Meetings.

The Regents must devise a mechanism for members of the public both at the meeting and around the state to have an opportunity to participate in the meeting. At the special meeting to debate and eventually hire the new commissioner the Regent members participated through video conference. Questions can be emailed or tweeted; the public can view the meeting from designated sites around the state.

The Regents meeting must address problems/solutions not fluff and self-adulation.

At a typical Regent meeting a panel from a highly successful school and/or program will describe a program with the usual Power Point. A principal from a school that served English language learners proudly displayed wonderful data – why was this particular school successful when the vast majority of schools are not successful in meeting the needs of English language learners? I have no idea. The Department showed a Power Point, a Roadmap to College for ELLs, was there anything in the Roadmap new?

The Regents agenda is set by the commissioner and the chancellor – should the public have input into the agenda?

Participation reduces resistance: if the public, parents, teachers and voters across the state felt that the Regents reflected their concerns the agenda of the Regents would become the agenda of parents and teachers.

Imagine the impact of the 200,000 Opt-Out parents opting in to support a policy imitative of the Regents?

The Failure of Arne Duncan: How President Obama Placed Friendship Above Sound Education Policy and Stained His Legacy.

Presidents and Congresses look for sweeping solutions for the issues/problems confronting America; after World War 1 Europe spiraled into a depression and rampant inflation that slowly inched across the Atlantic. In October, 1929 the stock market crashed and our economy disintegrated. President Hoover, following the conservative economic views of the day, was aloof, the government did not intervene in the economy, the “invisible hand” would correct the economy, direct government intervention was both unnecessary and the wrong path.

… the nation was deep in the throes of the Depression. Confidence in the old institutions was shaken. Social changes that started with the Industrial Revolution had long ago passed the point of no return. The traditional sources of economic security: assets; labor; family; and charity, had all failed in one degree or another. Radical proposals for action were springing like weeds from the soil of the nation’s discontent. President Franklin Roosevelt would choose the social insurance approach as the “cornerstone” of his attempts to deal with the problem of economic security.

In 1935 the Social Security Law established a safety net for all Americans, upon passage of the law FDR opined,

“We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”
President Roosevelt upon signing Social Security Act.

Thirty years later President Lyndon Johnson, as an amendment to the Social Security Law passed the Medicare and Medicaid programs. “The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older and Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage for certain low-income people.”

In the same year, Johnson, a former teacher, a mere three months after the bill was introduced passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law states,

“In recognition of the special educational needs of low-income families and the impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local educational agencies to support adequate educational programs, the Congress hereby declares it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance… to local educational agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means (including preschool programs) which contribute to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children”

The “financial assistance,” provides billions of dollars to school districts with high percentages of low-income families; the dense law attempts to prevent school districts from supplanting tax levy funding, and, the actual impact of the law has from time to time been subject to question.

In 2002 President Bush, in partnership with Senator Edward Kennedy passed a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and renamed the law No Child Left Behind.

Under the NCLB law, states must test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And they must report the results, for both the student population as a whole and for particular “subgroups” of students, including English-learners and students in special education, racial minorities, and children from low-income families.

States were required to bring all students to the “proficient level” on state tests by the 2013-14 school year, although each state got to decide, individually, just what “proficiency” should look like, and which tests to use.

Under the law, schools are kept on track toward their goals through a mechanism known as “adequate yearly progress” or AYP. If a school misses its state’s annual achievement targets for two years or more, either for all students or for a particular subgroup, it is identified as not “making AYP” and is subject to a cascade of increasingly serious sanctions:

Although the effectiveness of ESEA/NCLB is open to question it has strong support, billions of dollars are driven to schools and school districts across the nation. Every representative and senator will support legislation that provides dollars to his/her district.

The reauthorization both continued Title 1, thereby assuring the support of both sides of the aisle and imposed the testing/sanction sections.

Ted Kennedy, the iconic liberal democrat from Massachusetts was the prime sponsor of the bill. While the opposition mounted the bill garnered retained support, from the testing industry and a strange coalition of civil rights organizations that saw the subgroup data as essential to keeping the spotlight on the subgroups and reformers who supported using testing data for teacher accountability.

Arne Duncan was in a unique position, he had the total support of the President and a legislative path to sweeping education reforms did not appear to be possible.

Roosevelt passed legislation that protects seniors both on the income side and the healthcare side; while the far right might trash Social Security and Medicare the legislation is firmly in place. Lyndon Johnson took the next step: Title 1 of ESEA is also firmly embedded in school districts across the nation.

Duncan’s plan was brilliant and devious, and, he didn’t need Congress.

David Coleman, the prime author of the Common Core State Standards, using what is called New Criticism and Literary Textual Analysis wrote new standards under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association. The governors in 46 states adopted the standards and the testing industry created new CCSS tests. The very core of education was changed without the involvement of any legislative body.

Duncan dangled 4.4 billion dollars in a competitive grants, “Race to the Top,” the competitive grants required the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the adoption of a teacher evaluation plan based on the growth scores on student tests scores and choice, aka, charter schools.

Teachers and parents pushed back, anger grew and President Obama steadfastly supported Duncan.

If you listen to Duncan, see three minute U-Tube, his policies on testing seem to be reasonable.

Duncan’s ideas can be reduced to creating competition among schools, a perverse educational Gresham’s Law, “good school will drive out bad schools.” Highly successful schools, charter or public will drive out, will close ineffective schools. Of course, online for-profit charter schools are fine, tossing out low performing or discipline problems ignored (“backfill”), and the large charter networks with deep philanthropy were praised.

In order to survive high poverty, low performing schools, will get better with the threat of charter schools. There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Milton Friedman approach to education would actually improve schools.

Link student test scores on the new Common Core tests to teacher performance; put the fear of the gods into teachers.

Arne Duncan will not go into history books as the FDR of education nor will he inherit the mantle of LBJ, state after state is backing away from the Common Core; the revolt against testing grows across the nation.

The lesson: no matter how close the friendship, no matter how loyal the friend: beware. Arne Duncan, your basketball buddy, an elite upbringing, jumped onboard the worst of the education reform ideas. As Linda Darling Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, renowned researcher after researcher questioned the Duncan agenda, Obama never strayed from supporting his friend.

John King, a Duncan acolyte will follow the Duncan agenda for the remaining year.

The failure of Arne Duncan will make a fascinating dissertation topic.

Can the Regents, the Legislature and the Governor Agree Upon a New Path that Will Assuage Opt-Out Parent Anger? Windows Open/Windows Close – Who Are the Leaders?

There are moments in time, in history, a window opens; an opportunity for change and, occasionally the leadership is right and history changes direction.

After seven bloody and frustrating years we won the revolutionary war, or, to be more accurate, with the crucial assistance of our French allies, we won the key battle that convinced the British to abandon the war.

Our first government, the Article of Confederation (excuse me, I’m a history teacher) created an amalgam of states, not a coherent nation. There was no president, Congress could not levy taxes, the states, the former colonies, had separate currencies and there was no military, all decisions required the approval of all of the thirteen states. As the not yet so United States of American stumbled along the Brits were convinced that it was only a matter of time before the colonies would ask to come back to mother England.

George Washington, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton plotted. The Constitutional Convention, called to tweak the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation was used by Washington, Madison and Hamilton to craft our constitution. Large states and small states, slave states and free states, plantation owners, farmers and craftsman argued from April to September and against overwhelming odds actually produced our governing document. Madison and Hamilton, with John Jay wrote the eighty plus essays supporting the ratification of the constitution that we call The Federalist Papers.

A narrow window, incredible leaders.

John F Kennedy’s election in 1960 presaged a change in direction for the nation. The “bright, shining moment,” the Camelot years, JFK and Jackie were the “King and Queen,” however the long list of progressive legislation was languishing in Congress. Lyndon Johnson had been a conservative senator from Texas who only ended up on the ticket to woo southern voters; however, as Robert Caro’s masterful biography chronicles Johnson was the right person at the right time – he guided the Kennedy legislation, from voting rights, to public accommodation to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act through what had been a recalcitrant Congress.

A narrow window, the perfect person with the perfect skills.

At the Camp David Summit in 2000 President Clinton, Israeli President Rabin and PLO leader Arafet came within inches of a peace accord, and, months after the talks failed; Arafat launched the second Intafada. Fifteen years later the Middle East is still aflame and the Iran Nuclear Treaty will either begin a path to peace or a path to the destruction of Israel.

A narrow window, leadership failed.

With the hubris that comes with the mantel of leadership, the scepter and orb of the presidency, President Obama and his lifelong friend decided to reshape the education system across the nation, to hurdle over state education departments and school boards and unions and parents, Obama/Duncan knew what was best for children; the establishment, the “ancien regime” only stood in the way of progress, a revolution was necessary, the only way to end poverty was to create highly effective schools and the old guard had to be skirted and/or removed.

3.4 billion in Race to the Top dollars dangled, with strings, student growth score -based teacher evaluation, school choice, aka, charter schools, the erosion or elimination of tenure, full adoption of the Common Core, weakening of teacher unions, higher standards for prospective teachers, “waivers” to control state policies, and an endless array of policies and intrusions to control education from top to bottom, from Washington directly to classrooms.

John King, Arne Duncan’s surrogate in New York State jumped into the Commissioner’s chair when David Steiner precipitously resigned. In spite of a few critical voices the majority of the Board of Regents allowed King to run unchecked: Race to the Top, Common Core, growth score influenced teacher evaluation, high cut scores for the new teacher exams and the “pushed off the end of the diving board” switch to the Common Core grades 3-8 exams. It certainly looked like the Obama-Duncan education agenda had been moved to New York State, the Empire State was to be the proving ground for the new world of education reform, according to Arne Duncan.

Suggestions that the new Common Core test items should be phased in or the standard-setting should be adjusted to allow for the sea change in instruction that would be required was ignored. Randi Weingarten, in a major address before the movers and shakers, with King in the audience called for a moratorium, allow a few years for the kids and teachers to absorb the standards, no dice.

King’s “listening tour” was halted as the meetings became opportunities for communities to flail King, and, King responded by blaming “outside agitators,” further inflaming angry parents.

Cuomo’s decision to show the teachers, and everyone else, that he’s in charge, only poured napalm on already flaming embers. Embracing charter schools and their dollars, imposing yet another obtuse teacher evaluation plan, increasing probation for new teachers, only succeeded in angering the education community, not coweringing the education community.

An unintended consequence is the explosion of the opt-out movement – one in five children opted-out of the state tests – over 200,000 kids, and, a hell of a lot of angry parents, parents concentrated in middle class districts on Long Island and some suburban communities upstate – the opt outs are the sans culottes, the foot soldiers of a new revolution. The anger of the opt-outers is directed at the electeds who they hold responsible for polices emanating from the governor and the regents.

The legislature responded by dumping two of the most senior regents members, members who had not uttered a word of criticism as King rolled over the Board. Bennett and Dawson campaigned hard, to no avail.

The message from the democratic-controlled Assembly was clear – we want change – we may not be able to stand up to the governor- we want the regents to remove the anger – do what you can to pacify, mollify, assuage the angry parent opt-out voters; although we really don’t know what we want you to do.

At the Wednesday (September 15th) regents meeting the six members of the opposition caucus, the four newly appointed members (Collins, Chin, Johnson and Ouderkirk) and the members who have consistently challenged the King agenda (Cashin and Rosa) voted against the new, new teacher evaluation plan (3012-d). Each made a brief, passionate statement; the messages: growth score (VAM) based teacher evaluation plans were neither scientifically acceptable nor good for teachers and children. Regent Tilles responded, he agreed with the dissident six on every point; however, the law would deprive districts of increases in state aid if the regulations were not approved injuring the very children the six were committed to help. The motion passed and the regents asked the key question: if we all agree that the new plan (3012-d), the over reliance on growth-based (VAM) score was wrong – what next? Tilles supported creating a new teacher evaluation system without the worts of the current plan, and, the regents directed the commissioner to create such a plan by the end of the year – in time to submit to the new legislative session.

The governor has signaled; he will create a commission to review the Common Core, and, when asked about a change in the regulations to allow a teacher to appeal their growth score he had no objection.

In other words a window is open.

The governor, the legislature and the regents all want a system that will assuage the anger; however, what is that system?

Can the new commissioner, who is still hiring key staff actually “make magic”?

As the Obama-Duncan onslaught loses steam are there leaders in New York State who can come together to turnaround the misdirected current waves of senseless reform?

The Republicans have a very narrow majority in the Senate – will the opt-out voters blame the Republicans for the supporting Cuomo actions? If so, Democratic strategists might say, “Let’s not resolve anything and drive the opt-out voters to the Democratic side.” Conversely, the opt-out voters are not party-driven and may vote to throw out all of the incumbents, Republicans and Democrats, unless a “solution” is found.

How much change will the governor buy-in to? He can’t support anything that looks like a defeat.

Teachers despise Cuomo, anything he supports teacher oppose … the chances of enacting a Mayan ritual of ripping his still beating heart out of his chest appears unlikely. The elephant in the room, lurking in every corner is the property tax cap – districts all over the state are being squeezed, cuts every year in programs, layoffs of staff, with no end in sight.

Washington, Madison, Hamilton and Lyndon Johnson are only memories – is there a leader, or leaders, who can reverse the tide?

Windows open, and close.

Building Trust: Can the Regents Begin to Regain the Trust of Parents and Teachers Across the State?

It always starts with a woman

I was a young firebrand complaining that the union leadership wasn’t militant enough; Lenore, that woman, challenged me to come to a union executive board meeting, I became addicted (to the meetings, not Lenore, who became a close friend)

Al Shanker, Jules Kolodny, Dave Wittes and the other founders of the UFT; debating, arguing, haggling: should the union take a position on the war in Vietnam, would taking a position destroy the union (the union conducted membership plebiscite – members voted not to take a position); should the union sponsor sending members to work registering black voters in the South (yes), should the union organize supervisors (no, by a single vote), I sat at the feet of union icons, and learned.

As a union rep I learned “to agree to disagree,” to work together on issues as well as to battle over others, to maintain mature labor-management relationships.

Unfortunately John King skipped over the learning steps

King is brilliant with a list of degrees from prestigious universities; he lacks a degree from the university of “hard knocks.”

As Commissioner of Education he intellectually overwhelmed a majority of the Regents, and probably the governor; at times duplicitous, at times arrogant, he jumped onto the (de)form bandwagon: the 770 million in Race to the Top dollars, the Common Core State Standards, the rapid adoption of new Common Core tests, a teacher evaluation plan, new untested higher standards for prospective teachers, one “big idea” after another forced down the throats of increasingly uneasy Regents and overburdened teachers and principals.

Then, the house of reformy cards tumbled.

As anger grew, among teachers, principals and superintendents, among parents, among legislators John King was sacrificed, aka, fired. The governor, angered over teacher support for his primary opponent decided to punish teachers, bubbling anger became a tsunami.

Angry voters results in nervous legislators.

The Democrats in the Assembly sent a message; they refused to reappoint the two most senior Regents and appointed four new Regents, all clearly independent, all committed to change, although “change” is hard to define.

Over the next two weeks the Regents will have an opportunity to rebuild trust.

The much ballyhooed teacher evaluation legislation based on multiple measures including student tests scores was a chimera. In the last year of the former “S” or “U” system in New York 2.8% of teachers received a “U” rating, in the first year of the new plan only 1.6% of teachers were rated “Ineffective.” In the first year of the plan outside of New York City 51% of teachers were rated “Highly Effective.” The teacher scores were statistically unstable; errors of measurement were 20, 30 and 40 percent. At the Education Learning Summit three of the four experts trashed the use of Value-Added Measures.

The governor imposed a new system, a Matrix that blended teacher observations and student performance measures.

In the two months since the budget passed a maelstrom has swirled across the state.

The Regents have an opportunity, a window to rebuild trust with the community.

Suggestions:

Acknowledge the American Statistical Association, (teacher impact on students test scores ranges from 1 to 14%), local negotiation is far more meaningful than plans imposed by the state, to the extent possible allow labor-management negotiations to create plans, and, in the first year, minimize the role of the outside evaluator, ask a technical committee to review research and the evolving data and recommend emendations, explore the use of portfolios to assess certain categories of students. Make sure that teachers are not “punished” for teaching the poorest kids, English language learners and students with disabilities.

The governor will trash the plan, his influence has waned, his approval ratings are nose-diving, and his “Preet Problems” continue to grow. The NY Post and the NY Daily News will squeal.

The Regents have to begin to build trust, to show school staffs and parents that the “blame the teacher, blame the parent” days are in the past.

There is a high level of suspicion, the newly appointed Commissioner, who does not take office until 7/6 has been sharply criticized before day one on the job.

Let’s get past teacher evaluation and begin to address the core conundrums: we know that geography, to a large extent, determines destiny (see just released maps here).

We know that English language learners struggle in schools across the state, except in the schools supported by the Internationals Network (see NY Times article here)

The Regents and the new commissioner must begin to deal with the wide range of issues: let’s begin working together: let’s agree to disagree as well as work together to create a student-centered school system across the state. Equitable school funding, deep poverty, new immigrants and undocumented minors, the challenges are daunting.

Listen to Joan Baez: Deportees

Olives, Condoms and Teacher Quality: The Education Transformation Act of 2015 is Fatally Flawed and Counteproductive

In order to prepare for the 2011 Race to the Top application the Governor, the Commissioner and the Unions spent months crafting a teacher evaluation plan which became State Education Law 3012c, the Commissioner convened an advisory task force made up of stakeholders and spent additional months working through regulations that the Commissioner promulgated, called the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), a state website explains the complex plan in detail: see extensive description here.

The seven hundred plus school districts in the state each created APPR plans pursuant to the law and state regulations and teachers outside of New York City were “judged” for the 12-13 school year. (The New York City plan began the following year, the 13-14 school year).

When the dust settled 51% of teachers were rated “highly effective,” 40% “effective and 1% “ineffective.” Very, very, very few teachers received consecutive “ineffective” ratings.

In numerous school districts every teacher received ”highly effective” ratings on the observation section.

At the same time the state changed the state tests, under the former tests over 70% of students scored proficient or above, under the new Common Core State Standards-based tests two-thirds of students scored “below proficient,” in other words failed the test; however, under the complex formula a new baseline was created.

On the observation section of the plan teachers commonly received extremely high scores, a statistics guru commenting on the frequency of high observation scores.

… either the hiring and training is remarkably effective and all teachers were very good or there was a social contract that ratings were given out in the same way that olives (and condoms) are sized (gigantic to colossal); without external information you can’t tell which.

It is extraordinarily difficult to differentiate among teachers through a numerical score, a skilled principal/evaluator can parse a lesson, can work with teachers to improve performance, and, when necessary can counsel out or discharge teachers during their probationary period, and, in rare cases begin the process to fire a tenured teacher.

The problem is the entire new system is based on a fallacy: firing “ineffective” teachers based on students’ scores and observations, sharply limiting entry into the profession by setting high academic bars and merit pay will not eradicate poverty and provide a pathway to the middle class. Teachers teach about 900 periods a school year (180 days x 5 classes a day), can you really attribute a score based on performance during one or two lesson observations? Sticks do not frighten teachers into “getting better.”

“Scoring” teachers in isolation from the world that surrounds our students is futile.

As described by the governor, the new legislation:

EDUCATION: THE GREAT EQUALIZER
Education Transformation Act of 2015
New York’s education system is set to implement some of its most dramatic and fundamental reforms in years through the Education Transformation Act. The Budget includes the Governor’s proposal for an increase of $1.3 billion in state education support to take education funding to its highest level ever – $23.5 billion.
The components of the transformation are as follows:
1. Best and Brightest Recruitment: To attract our best and brightest to the teaching field, the Budget provides funding for a new full scholarship program for SUNY/CUNY for top students who commit to teach in New York for five years.
2. Graduate Education Program Accreditation: The first statewide, uniform admissions standards for teacher preparation programs will be established, and SED will have enhanced authority to close programs that fail to prepare students for the teaching profession.
3. Teacher “Bar” Exam / CTE: The State currently requires teachers to pass a teacher “bar” exam – and will now also require teachers to complete 100 hours of continuing education and recertify every five years or lose their licenses.
4. Teacher Evaluation System: A redesigned teacher evaluation system will be established whereby educators are rated in two categories, student performance and teacher observations.
 Student Performance – Districts will use a standardized state measure, or may choose to use a state-designed supplemental assessment.
 If a teacher receives an Ineffective rating in the state measure subcomponent, the teacher cannot be rated Effective or Highly Effective overall.
 If a local district chooses to use a state-designed supplemental assessment and the teacher is Ineffective when both subcomponents are combined, the teacher must be rated Ineffective overall.
 The state allocates weights for this category and its subcomponents.
 Teacher Observations – This category must contain two subcomponents: principal observations and independent observations. Peer observations may be included at the discretion of the Commissioner.
 If a teacher receives an Ineffective rating in the teacher observation category, the teacher cannot be rated Effective or Highly Effective overall.
 The state allocates weights for this category and its subcomponents.
 Additional information to note: Teachers will be evaluated based on a four point scale. In regulations, the Commissioner shall set scoring bands, cut scores and weights, and the Commissioner must have the system put in place by June 30, 2015. Local districts must put evaluations in place by November 15, 2015, in order to be eligible for increased aid.

Two years after the initial APPR plan the Governor totally changed the plan, teachers weren’t failing, a new test failed students, teachers and principals are angry and hostile, superintendents feel abandoned, in fact, aside from the Governor (and former Commissioner King), no one supports the plan, excuse me, I’m sure US Secretary of Education Duncan also supports the plan.

Why would a high achieving college student decide on a career as a public school teacher? Numerous college programs will probably be closed, and these are programs serving poorer students.

The new observation section is an “unfunded mandate,” how do you identify experienced, skilled evaluators without spending dollars intended for instructional purposes? Yes, a handful of schools will create peer assessment programs, unfortunately very few. I spoke with a number of principals: the observation process requires building trust, it is not a “drive-by,” I believe Charlotte Danielson would agree that a single lesson observation should not determine a teacher’s annual rating. A year or two down the road I believe a judge will find the law “discriminatory, arbitrary and capricous and an abuse of discretion.”

Arne Duncan and John King are true believers;they would aver that New York State is now on the path to changing the direction of the entire school system: decades of schools run for teachers will now become schools run for students; and, Andrew Cuomo jumped on the band wagon.

There is not a scintilla of evidence that all these new initiatives will change the face of education for the better. In fact, the policies very well might be counterproductive.

Duncan, King, and now Cuomo, believe you can threaten, coerce and basically bribe your way to excellence. We know that teachers who teach higher achieving students receive higher grades on lesson observations and teachers teaching poorer, lower achieving students, teachers teaching students with disabilities, receive lower grades. The new plan will accelerate the movement of teachers out of more difficult classes and schools.

Yes, there are successful schools in poor districts, they are characterized by excellent leadership, a team led by a school leader and supported by the school district; unfortunately they are few and far between, and, the school leaders commonly are “plucked” to work in higher achieving schools.

No Child Left Behind was a bi-partisan law lauded across party lines; it is hard to identify any critics. A dozen years later we wonder how we could have been so wrong. The 2002 law required every state to require “progress” each year as measured by annual grades 3-8 Math and English scores, schools that fell behind were sanctioned: transformation, turnaround, and conversion to charter or closings. Closing are a last resort, and more of a failure for the school district that failed to intervene in a timely fashion. The law became a joke on National Public Radio, the town of Lake Woebegone, where all children are above average.

NCLB was popular, the Education Transformation Act of 2015 unpopular, incredibly unpopular. Cuomo may have won a battle, the fight has moved from a skirmish to a war. Cuomo has become a Democratic Scott Walker in a Democratic heavily unionized state.

Cuomo is not an ideologue, the new law resulted from teacher unions not endorsing his candidacy for re-election and teachers clearly favoring his rival, college professor Zephyr Teachout. His actions are vindictive not ideological.

Perhaps Dante’s logo for the Inferno, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” should hang over the portel of our state school system as a warning to potential staff.

The last laugh might be Preet Bharara leading the guv out of the mansion in handcuffs.

Civics 101: Using The Struggle Over the Reauthorization of NCLB/ESEA as a Teaching Tool

On January 21st the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the long-delayed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, The committee chair, Lamar Alexander is hopeful that the process will actually produce a reauthorized law,

“During the last six years, this committee has held 24 hearings and reported two bills to the Senate floor to fix the law’s problems. We should be able to finish our work within the first few weeks of 2015 so the full Senate can act.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the outcome, the hearing is only one step in the long path from idea to bill to law.

A refresher minicourse: just in case you were daydreaming on that day that your teacher taught “how a bill becomes a law.”

The 435-member House of Representatives and the 100-member Senate must pass the same bill and the bill becomes a law when signed by the president. If the president vetoes a bill both houses must override the veto with a 2/3 vote in each house.

If the houses pass different bills, which is commonplace, a conference committee made up of members of both houses attempts to reconcile the bills, if they are able to agree on a single bill both houses must pass the reconciled bill and send along to the President for signature.

Republicans control both houses which allow them to set the agendas; they control the time frame of hearings and the text of any bill. Due to the procedural rules of the Senate a bill requires 60 votes to come to the floor for discussion and an eventual vote. On the Senate side any bill must be bipartisan enough to gain sufficient Democratic votes to reach the 60 vote threshold and the party members do not necessarily vote as a bloc. The required 60 votes, or the negative 41 votes, can contain members of both parties who, for totally different reasons support or object to the bill, or to some part of the bill.

Sometime later in the session the House committee will begin discussions. The Republicans have the largest majority since the end of World War 2 and can pass any bill they choose to pass; however, there are 30-40 members on the extreme right who may not agree with the mainstream Republicans. The Republican leadership will not bring a bill to the floor for a vote unless the bill has sufficient Republican votes, the Republican leadership would not look across the aisle for Democratic votes, to do so would alienate the right wing of the party.

If the House and the Senate pass reconciled bills and pass along to the President, he can veto the bill, in effect killing the bill. It is extremely difficult to override a presidential veto. The repercussions of a veto could impact well beyond the issue, if the bill was a bipartisan bill, vetoing the bill could alienate Democrats in the Senate, who the President needs to pass, or, to block passage of other legislation.

If all goes smoothly, which is unlikely, a bill could be on the President’s desk for signature within a few months. If the process leaks into the fall it will get caught up in the 2016 presidential primary season and may fall by the wayside. A number of senators, on both sides of the aisle are flirting with a presidential run and the reauthorization bill could easily get caught up in the primary politics. Party primaries attract core voters, on the Republican side, the Tea Party, the anti-government voters; on the Democratic side the most progressive wing. Republican candidates may choose to run on an “abolish the entire Department of Education” platform while a Democratic candidate might run on a “protect the civil rights of students at risk” platform, meaning no bill would emerge.

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 eloquently portrayed the roles of the branches of government,

To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. .

… it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

The 387-page discussion draft of the bill begins the political process in the Senate.

Alexander announced the committee’s first hearing this year on No Child Left Behind, and said he would hold additional hearings after conferring with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) He also announced beginning this week bipartisan meetings in the Senate education committee to discuss the chairman’s discussion draft, consider changes and improvements, identify areas of agreement, and discuss options to proceed.

The first hearing included two classroom teachers from New York City, an elementary school teacher who led a grassroots campaign against standardized testing (“Teachers of Conscience”) and a high school teacher from a school that uses a state-approved portfolio/roundtable exam waiver from the state as well as beginning a union contract approved peer review initiative. (Watch hearing here)

The American Federation of Teachers position supports a nuanced position on the use of tests,

We are calling on Congress to end the use of annual tests for high-stakes consequences. Let’s instead use annual assessments to give parents and teachers the information they need to help students grow, while providing the federal government with information to direct resources to the schools and districts that need extra support.

We’re calling for a robust accountability system that uses multiple measures—which could include factors like whether students have access to art, music and physical education, and whether they have support from specialists like school librarians, nurses and counselors. Such a system should allow for ideas like portfolios rather than bubble tests. We recommend a limited use of testing to measure progress—including what to do if there isn’t progress—through grade-span testing. That means instead of annual high-stakes tests, we’d have tests once between third and fifth grades, once between sixth and eighth grades, and once in high school.

Other groups will advocate for a range of approaches, John King, the former NYS Commissioner will be roaming the halls of Congress supporting the core principles of the Duncan waiver system and the continuation of annual testing that can be used for high stakes decision-making. Others will call for the elimination of any required testing leaving all decisions to the states, and, some will call for the prohibition of the Common Core and a few will call for the disbanding of the Department of Education.

Wade Henderson, who leads a civil rights organization, is wary of eliminating annual testing,

Stepping too far back from testing requirements could strand poor and minority students, said Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The bill, as a general matter, bends over backward to accommodate the interests of state and local government entities that have both failed our children and avoided any real accountability for their failures,” he said. “Congress must not pass any … bill that erodes the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights in education.”

Elizabeth Warren, although a liberal Democrat, also questions granting states wider powers over spending federal dollars,

“All a state would have to do to get federal dollars is submit a plan with a lot of promises,” with no guarantee of a follow through, she said. “If the only principle is the states should be able to do whatever they want, then they could raise their own tax dollars to pay for it.”

Republican chair Alexander entered a letter in the record from Carol Burris, a Long Island principal who is a sharp critic of high stakes testing, Burris wrote,

“The unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high-stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well,”

The Senate side has always be collegial, up to a point; the rules require cobbling together 60 votes, Republicans need Democrats.

It is likely that a bill will reach the floor with commitments for sixty votes.

In the House minority Democrats have no clout; House procedures allow the majority party to set the rules. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is holding its first organizational meeting on January 21st; there are over 200 bills that are sitting in the subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education that were introduced in the last session, the vast majority will die in committee.

James Madison captures the essence, the soul of our governmental process, “… what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature. If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The internal conflicts within the individual houses, the conflicts between the houses and the ultimate power of the executive, to quote Madison are a “reflection on human nature.” Legislators are bipartisan when it is in their self-interest, and, for the last few years legislators have resisted “coming together,” ideology is trumping pragmatism.

The passage of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, NCLB) would be the crowning achievement of Alexander’s career.

I am optimistic.