Tag Archives: Klein

Picking a High School: The Anarchy of School Choice and Building Communities

Eighth graders families in New York City will soon be absorbed in picking a high school from over 400 school choices.

The Borough High School Fairs will take place on October 18 & 19. Speak with school representatives and learn more about high schools in your borough.

The deadline for Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and LaGuardia audition registration is Tuesday, October 21st. Please speak to your guidance counselor or visit a Borough Enrollment Office to register!

High School applications are now available through school guidance counselors. Applications are due back by Tuesday, December 2nd.

The online High School Directory and the encyclopedia size print version is overwhelming you can check out a one-page attempt to clarify the process here.

The entire process is part of the Bloomberg-Klein choice initiative – to provide a wide range of school choices for every family, charter or public, and at the high school level access 700 programs in 400 schools.

Prior to the Bloomberg era the city had a mix of large comprehensive high schools and small schools – some were called alternative high schools with roots in the sixties and others replacing schools closed in the nineties and early 2000s.

Large comprehensive high schools had geographic zones and, in addition, many had what were called education option programs that were open to all students. For example Midwood High School has a Bio-Medical Program with academic standards; eighth graders can apply to the program. Other ed op programs were open to all students without preconditions. A school opened a fixed number of seats – the school chose half the students; the computer randomly chose the remainder, and the students reflected a range of abilities based on state test scores.

With the exception of the few remaining zoned schools, the 400 small high schools are unzoned. A few score of schools are “screened” schools – the schools utilize a combination of middle school grades, state test scores and attendance and punctuality to select students, the remainder are “limited, unscreened,” the computer spins and chooses students. Arts schools can require a portfolio or exhibition in addition to academic requirements.

Families can select up to 12 schools, if a zoned school is selected the student, if not assigned other choices, will be assigned to the zoned school. If a student does not select a zoned school the algorithm selects student.

If a student lives a block from a school, s/he must “compete” with all other students who apply to the school regardless of address.

The High School Directory provides information provided by the school as well as some data about the school. The only other source of information is Inside Schools (http://insideschools.org/), a website associated with the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, the site provides more data and in a comment section allows prospective parents/students to both read other comments and ask questions – extremely useful. (See Comments from Columbia Secondary)

The system, in my judgment, has a fatal flaw, the system discourages neighborhood schools. It is difficult to build school cultures when students travel to the school from across the city. It is commonplace to travel by bus or subway or both, traveling and hour or more, lateness is endemic, after school programs are not available to students who trek across the city.

The Center for NYC Affairs report,
Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor Can Prepare New York’s Students for College and Careers, recommends,

Strengthen the remaining traditional zoned neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.

All unscreened high schools should have a geographic zone; families should have the option of attending a school near their home and/or applying to any other school.

School culture is at the core of school effectiveness, and, students who live in scores of zip codes across the city mitigate against building strong school cultures.

The Bloomberg-Klein guys created a market-driven, competitive school system, low test scores led to school closings and high test scores guaranteed success. The result has been that schools located in high poverty zip codes have been closed and students “encouraged” to flee neighborhood schools. While high school graduation rates have risen college and career readiness rates for black and Hispanic student hover around an astounding 15% and community college six-year completion rate are equally appalling.

A core strategy for improving schools and reducing poverty is creating coordinated services – chasing students out of their neighborhood is antithetical to building communities.

Let’s facilitate families who want to educate their children in their community and, at the same time, allow parents any other school choice – let’s create zones for every unscreened school.

An Experienced Teacher Tells the Chancellor: It’s About Instruction, Not Structure

Marc Korashan is a career Special Education teacher, has been an instructor at Brooklyn College, a mentor to First and Second Year Teaching Fellows and a frequent commenter on this blog.

Chancellor Farina’s appointment is a kept promise: she is an educator; however, it needs to be more to truly invigorate the school system. There are many questions that she will have to address to reinvigorate and renew our school system.

This Chancellor knows, as none of the last four did, that education takes place in the classroom, in the relationship between the teacher and the student. The pundits, who were never in a classroom except as a student, will continue, as Ed in the Apple writes, “… to talk about the symbolic issues that grab the headlines, and rarely impact classrooms.” Will the Mayor and new chancellor be able to change the conversation to focus on classrooms and the elements of good teaching that are really central to student success?

The questions that come to mind for me start with whether she will allow teachers to teach the children in front of them even if this means moving away from the “workshop model” and “social engagement” where it isn’t working, to more direct instruction. I know teachers who want to move away from group instruction, it may be more effective to put children in rows and do more direct instruction, but they can’t because administration won’t allow it. Will Chancellor Farina empower these teachers to take the risk to do what they think will work better even where it challenges the Danielson and Klein imposed orthodoxy?

It is so much easier for politicians and pundits to talk about governance than teaching. Teaching is a truly complex activity that can’t be reduced to a formula (or a rubric) that fits all classes, all students, and all situations. Those of us who have spent time in classrooms and have lived with the complexity of trying to teach many individuals at once know this and value seeing teachers who do it well even when they do it in ways we didn’t or wouldn’t have predicted would work. Will the new Chancellor end the lockstep use of the Danielson rubrics or checklists to evaluate teachers who are effective in their own creative ways? Will she champion changes in the Teacher Evaluation (APPR) law and make it truly about improving teaching, retaining good educators and helping those who shouldn’t be in the classroom to recognize that and make a graceful exit?

Will the new Chancellor use the upcoming contract negotiations to revisit the professional periods and the extra time in the school day to make that time available for meaningful professional development activities? Will she hold schools accountable for the quality of the PD and how will she measure the effectiveness?

The Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott era is famous for reorganizing the school bureaucracy many times. Will the Mayor and new Chancellor be able to end the ineffective networks and replace them with a structure that truly supports teachers in classrooms? Will they take steps to ensure that principals cannot, as they do too often now, leave classrooms vacant (on the specious grounds that they can’t find a teacher even though there is a pool of ATRs who need jobs)?

Finally, as a Special Education teacher, I can’t help but wonder if the new Chancellor will take steps to make Special Education a meaningful option for those students who are truly disabled? Will she take steps to make the Alternative High Schools a real alternative for students who need them by finding metrics for evaluating those schools that recognize they must be different from typical high schools? Will she find ways to create CTE programs that work (as CoOp Tech which is being closed to allow for real estate developers to make money did) and create opportunities for students to enter the work force in trades that pay more than minimum wage (welding, HVAC, elevator repair, auto repair, electrical installation, plumbing, etc.)?

These are the questions that the Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott administration failed to address and the answers that the deBlassio/Farina administration comes up with will determine their impact and legacy. This is what the pundits and the press should be watching.

The Next Chancellor: What Are the Qualities the Mayor Should Seek in the Next Chancellor?

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.” Mark Twain

We yearn for leadership; we respect the player who leads by example, the leader who motivates through words and actions. Fifty years ago Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and led a movement, by words and actions,

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

My role model, my mentor was Al Shanker – he created a movement, a powerful and dedicated union, teachers who were willing to risk their jobs, not for money or benefits, to walk a picket line for an issue. Al through his leadership raised the job of a teacher from a powerless classroom teacher to a teacher who was part of a national movement of teachers.

Unfortunately the New York City schools have been devoid of leadership for too long. It’s been almost twenty years since the school system has been led by an educator. Joel Klein spent his first few years trying to lead, his personal coach, his speaking lessons, never were able to create an effective communicator, I listened to him on numerous occasions – the traditional “personal narrative,” (called the “I was born in a log cabin …” speech), the strolling about the stage, the reading of the incisive quote, none of which made Klein into a leader. Eventually he decided it was easier, and more comfortable to become the anti-leader. The leader of a school system reviled by those he was selected to lead.

The current chancellor is a marionette, dancing to the gyrations of the geppetto-master in Gracie Mansion.

The system has been leaderless for too long.

Before the discussion moves on to actual names the next mayor must decide the leadership qualities s/he seeks in a school district leader.

May I offer suggestions:

Healing and Building Trust:

The very word, “Tweed,” the site of department headquarters, is an invective, snarled by principals and teachers alike. A decade of teacher bashing and policy after policy that appears to belittle or ignore, or diminish the role of teachers has created a minefield between school district leadership and school-based personnel. Even well-intentioned, excellent ideas are looked upon with suspicion, the system is riven by battles – co-location, ATRs, school closings, teacher evaluation, each is not an intellectual dispute, and each is a battle in a war for survival.

The system needs a leader who can reach across the yawning abyss and offer a soothing hand, words and gestures and actions that begin to capture the attention and support of the folks “in the trenches.”

The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, famous for “the medium is the message,” also wrote,

“Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior”

The system needs a chancellor they feel they can trust to lead.

Building an Inclusive Team:

Traditionally the school system was run by those who had worked their way up through the ranks – one step at a time – for a time passing rigorous civil service exams. On one hand the slow progress through the system promoted individuals who knew the system well on the other hand by promoting from within the leadership defended an often lethargic dysfunctional system. The system seemed guided by Newton’s First Law of Motion – momentum. Why are we doing it this way? Because we’ve always done it this way!

Unfortunately the Bloomberg-Klein leadership decided to sweep away all that came before. After creating ten regions run by experienced superintendents they swept away the regions and created the current tangled web. The current leadership model values a few years at Teach for America and an MA in Public Policy more than years of on-site experience. The new leader will have to meld the two: institutional experience is an essential quality; however, being wedded to dysfunctional practices is not a desired quality. Young, dynamic, knowledgeable folk can bring new ideas to the table. The next chancellor cannot return to failed past practices, but can create a team that builds on the strengths of the past, and there were many, as well as incorporating new ideas.

“Listening with a Third Ear:”

The psychologist has to learn how one mind speaks to another beyond words and in silence. He must learn to ‘listen with a third ear.’ Theodor Reik

The next school leader must lead and listen, ofttimes the response to what one hears is the most effective form of leadership. Parents currently feel abandoned, more by the perception that city and school leadership simply don’t care. Once a month a superintendent held an open forum, anyone could come to the microphone in the auditorium and ask a question: the superintendent listened: nodded, scribbled some notes, and thanked the questioner. Sometimes a brief answer, sometimes a thank you, sometimes, ”I’ll look into it.” I asked him whether it was worth his time, “Absolutely, I get a feel for what is ‘out there,’ I get a pulse of the community.”

Responding before the issue hits the NY Post, engaging, not manipulating the media and the public. Leaders have an agenda, they cannot be tone deaf, and they cannot effectively impose an agenda that the troops or parents are ill-prepared to hear.

The Bully Pulpit:

We all want a leader who speaks for us, a leader who confronts the bad guys and stands up for the good guys. While a chancellor cannot end, or even modify the testing regimen imposed by Washington and Albany, s/he can praise the recent NY Times editorialcriticizing the over-emphasis on high stakes testing. The chancellor can testify before the city council or a congressional committee, can write op eds in the local dailies, the chancellor can espouse what most of us think. On the other hand the pulpit must be ecumenical; the chancellor has the power to impose their own views, which may be antithetical to the views of the folks in the schools, or, at least, some of the schools. When Campbell Brown accuses the union of protecting sexual predators we expect the union president to react, we’d like the chancellor to also speak out.

The school system needs a face – not an accusatory finger blaming teachers, a face praising, and chiding our enemies and speaking for us in a loud voice.

Dividing the Wheat from the Chaff:

Chancellors must take on the unpleasant task of removing teachers and principals who are not adequate to the job – expeditiously and within the law. Investigations should take weeks not months, hearing should move quickly and employees exonerated or disciplined in a timely manner. Grievances should not perk through the system for years – rather than using delay as a tactic the chancellor must understand that the timely resolution of disputes benefits the system. Currently principals know that “justice delayed is justice denied” is the theme of the administration – it may take years to get before an arbitrator. Festering disputes leave a bad taste for all involved – the discipline side of the job is best handled fairly and as quickly as possible.

A Thick Skin and a Winning Smile:

The enemies, the Eva Moskowitz crowd, the Joel Klein acolytes, the DFER minions, the next chancellor, no matter what they do will be pilloried by those are no longer in charge. Michael Bloomberg will be gone, he will be a presence in the background, and his cutouts will be protecting his image and his legacy. The next chancellor will simply have to absorb the slings and arrows and move forward. Thin-skinned chancellors bleed a lot; you have to accept the blows and the criticisms, the attacks, no matter how unfair.

I don’t know how many Jesus-Abraham-Mohammad-like individuals are waiting in the wings, how many aspirants will have the intellect, the confidence, the personality and the qualities discussed supra, the children and families, the teacher and principals deserve a leader in whom they can be proud.

Charlotte’s Web: Will the Implementation of the Frameworks Improve Teacher Performance or Yet Another Mindless Compliance Tool?

The Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team arrived at the middle school in February for the four day visit to assess the stumbling school, and perhaps, recommend closing. Usually the principal greets the team at the door – we waited for the principal, who apologized, he had five vacancies on his fifty teacher staff and had to oversee the assignment of twenty-five class coverages. Five teachers had skipped out and the principal had yet to find replacements and the current staff had to teach an additional daily class – without any preparation.

As we began the discussion I asked the principal a “soft” question, “What criteria do you use to assess teacher effectiveness?”

The principal thought a moment, then responded, “They come to school every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”

Sad, and the reality in too many high poverty schools in high crime neighborhoods.

I was chatting with a principal in a school that fully screened students, he was concerned, while teachers asked thoughtful, high level questions on the Webb Depth of Knowledge scale the discussion among the students rarely went beyond one or two students.

For decades we had a school system in which the lowest achieving, most dysfunctional schools accepted the least common denominator of teacher effectiveness – the highest achieving schools had the highest levels of teacher quality and the current so-called reform initiatives allow teachers to move from school to school – frequently from lower performing schools in undesirable neighborhoods to high achieving schools, the Klein imposed Open Market transfer system.

Yes, high poverty schools have excellent teachers and many chose to remain, the challenge was finding bodies for classrooms for teachers who moved on. In the mid nineties one of five teachers was a Probationary Provisional Teacher (PPT), they were employed but couldn’t pass the low level required teacher exams and most were working in “hard to staff” schools.

Today frequently high poverty, lower achieving schools have new, inexperienced teachers.

A satisfactory teacher in one school could easily be considered unsatisfactory in another school.

The APPR (the New York State teacher evaluation plan) required school districts and teacher unions to select a standard for teacher assessment from among six choices chosen by the State Education Department. (see Kim Marshall Teacher Evaluation Rubric ).

The purpose of selecting a single teacher evaluation rubric is an attempt to standardize the quality of teacher assessment – a teacher in the lowest poverty, lowest achieving school should be assessed the same as the teacher in the highest achieving fully screened school.

New York City chose the Danielson Frameworks, a rather unwieldy much revised “evaluation instrument.”

The introductory section of the Frameworks traces the path since publication in 1996, and the many revisions and describes the current iteration,

…the complex work of teaching is divided into 4 domains [Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction and Professional Responsibilities] and 22 components. Furthermore, each component is comprised of several smaller elements which serve to further define components.

… in the centerpiece of the Framework is student engagement, which is defined not as “busy” or “on task,” but as “intellectually active.”

The Frameworks are a useful professional development tool, the domains and components and elements should be at the heart of teacher training, teachers should meet together and discuss how the Frameworks “translate” into lessons, and, I believe, Danielson would be in full agreement.

How a supervisor can observe a lesson and translate it into a meaningful observation report using all/some/a few of the Danielson components and elements is a conundrum.

At a small meeting a few years ago I asked Danielson, “Justice Potter Stewart in a famous Supreme Court decision wrote that pornography was difficult to define but you know it when you see it … isn’t it the same with good teaching?”

She adamantly disagreed.

I’m not so sure she’s right. These days the department trains school leaders to use the low-inference observation technique – to “scribe” the lesson – to note all the teacher and students interactions and in the post observation meeting engage the teacher in a discussion about the purpose and effectiveness of the lesson emendating from the notes of the school leader/observer. [Video, unfortunately, is still verboten]. Ironically the department in the negotiations over the APPR fought to minimize the use of post observation meetings.

Does the observer jot notes on the 4 domains, 22 components and numerous elements? or, inform the teacher before the observation of the specific components? I don’t know.

In the past school leaders observed a lesson, met with the teacher, wrote up a report that summarized the lesson, listed commendations and recommendations, and concluded with, “This is a satisfactory/unsatisfactory lesson.”

The “new” world of observation writing will make references to Danielson – probably referring to domains, components and elements, with commendations/recommendations, and, in lieu of the S/U the new acronym HEDI (highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective).

The school leaders, the rating officers, after their own training sessions will have to pass an “online” test – viewing lessons and assessing the lessons. [At 3012c dismissal appeals will teachers be able to subpoena the records of the online test – “Isn’t it true Mr. Principal that it took you seven times to pass the exam?”]

I believe the number of teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings has been the same over the last few years – about 2.6% (around 2000 teachers) … will the number change under the new system?

More importantly will the new system improve classroom performance?

I fear not.

There is a plethora of research [see next blog] that performance improves where teachers work in collaborative settings – in settings in which teachers, and school leaders, can interact, settings which are lacking in too many schools.

With a few exceptions, schools are islands, loosely tied to networks, school leaders struggle with the scimitar hovering above – student progress as measured by state tests and in the high schools, credit accumulation and regents passing rates.

The 200 plus screened schools and programs have a luxury – the kids come to the building with high level skills and the school can offer a wide range of intellectually stimulating courses and experiences,

For the vast majority of schools the system has become a complex tangle of compliance driven requirements – how many emails does a principal receive in a day requiring this or that report or piece of information – required yesterday?

The department wrote in its Instructional Expectation document principals will conduct, “frequent brief classroom observations with meaningful feedback,” they are absolutely correct.

Viola players and basketball players and teachers only get better with coaching, the ability to practice under the guidance of a skilled coach.

Danielson’s other book, “Talk About Teaching ,” a slim 130-page volume discusses in detail the supervisor-observer interactions with teachers. The dense Frameworks describe elements of teaching that Danielson’s research claims defines effective teaching. I have some quibbles, putting them aside, the core of the process is the talking about teaching, the dialogue that both precedes and follows an observation – unfortunately the APPR seems more concerned with the number of observations and whether they are announced or unannounced than the process that allows teachers to learn from the coach.

The sports coach that spends most of his/her time yelling at players is an ineffective coach – players shut down, they don’t hear the coach, the coach as a teacher, the coach who demonstrates skills, overseas the practice of the skill and assesses the performance results in improved practice.

In the waning months of the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott era, unfortunately, the cumbersome APPR has little chance of improving or assessing teacher performance.