Tag Archives: Manhattan Institute

Will Governor Cuomo Succeed in Increasing/Eliminating the New York City Charter School Cap?

The New York Post, a pro-charter school daily newspaper reports that Governor Cuomo is pursuing increasing the New York City charter school cap.

Gov. Cuomo on Sunday urged the Legislature to back a new law that would raise the cap to allow more charter schools to open in New York City before the legislative session ends in June.

“We support raising this artificial cap, but the legislature needs to agree as well,” Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi told The Post.

And, Ray Domanico from the conservative Manhattan Institute follows up with a NY Post op ed, arguing that charter schools raise all boats,

[Charter school] success at creating educational opportunity hasn’t come at the expense of the city’s traditional public schools. Over the last 20 years, as charter schools have grown in the city to the point where they now educate 10 percent of all public-school students, the city’s traditional public schools have seen historical improvement.

Meryl Tisch, the deputy chancellor of SUNY (and former chancellor of the Board of Regents) jumped on the train, also calling for the raising of the New York City cap.

State law sets a statewide cap on the number of charter school and a subcap on the number allotted to New York City. The SUNY Charter Institute approved a number of charter schools at their last meeting reaching the New York City cap.

The cap has been increased twice, each time the increase was included in the state budget. The budget process in New York State is unique; the governor can add non-budgetary items to the budget.  Two convoluted court decisions sustained the right of the governor to add items not germane to the budget, the only power the legislature has is not to approve the budget, not a viable option. .

In the past the governor used the budget to increase the cap; this time he made no efforts to use the budget.

The legislature will return on April 29th and will adjourn in mid-June, with many outstanding issues; there are twenty-five legislative days remaining in the session. While both houses in the legislature are controlled by Democrats the newly empowered Democratic majority in the Senate is aggressive, and, outspokenly hostile to charters; John Liu, the chair of the New York City Education Committee has been especially negative towards charters

On the Assembly side the new chair of the Education Committee, Michael Benedetto, is a retired New York City teacher.

Marcos Crespo, a Bronx Assembly member, as well as the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party is one of the few Democratic charter school supporters in the Assembly.

Can the pro-charter school folks stir the pot and generate political pressure to increase the cap?

There is a bill, introduced 3/29/19 that, “Requires the state comptroller and the comptroller of the city of New York to coordinate the scheduling and performance of audits of charter schools in the city of New York.”  A bill vigorously opposed by the network charters. Philanthropy is the “dirty little secret,” the charter school networks (Success Academy, etc.,) receive large sums of philanthropic dollars, from hedge funds and national ant-union organizations. For example, Guide Star, the site that give access to the IRS 990 reports lists over 200 million dollars in contributions to the Success Academy Network,  the dollars are not subject to audit.

There aren’t any bills so far to increase the cap.

In 1866 Gideon Tucker, a New York judge, wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” and little has changed.

Why didn’t the governor add an increase in the cap to the budget bill?

  • The maneuvering for charter school PAC dollars

The charter school political action committees (PACs) have poured dollars into the campaign of Republicans in the Senate – they lost. Where should the PAC dollars go?  The governor’s actions says, “I’m one of your few friends.”

  • De Blasio v Cuomo

The de Blasio-Cuomo antipathy is unabated. From the governor’s seat in Albany he is the alpha progressive. At every opportunity he has made life difficult for de Blasio: from budget to space for charter schools to mayoral extensions, nothing has come easily

As perhaps Cuomo is seeking powerful allies in the Assembly

  • Marcus Crespo

With the Bronx Borough President term-limited Crespo may be looking at the Bronx Borough President as his next step, and, charter school dollars are as good as anyone else’s dollars.

I believe it is unlikely that Cuomo wants to alienate the UFT, the New York City teacher union. Cuomo and Mulgrew have had a “professional” relationship. After the Supreme Court issued the Janus Decision; the governor quickly issued regulations strengthening union membership rules basically thwarting the impact of Janus. The bill signing took place at UFT headquarters.

Rent regulations expire in New York City on June 15th and the Democrats in both houses are seeking sweeping changes, the Assembly, the Senate and the Governor have to agree, and,  if there is no agreement rent control sunsets, totally unacceptable.

The last days in Albany are called “the big ugly;” deals are made, I’ll support this if you support that, no one has a political future if they allow rent control to expire while the real estate industry pours dollars and lobbyists and promises of anonymous independent expenditures. Could the charter school cap get caught up in the last minute deal-making?

The Democratic primary debates begin on June 26th and 27th. As candidates fade the next tier of candidates will emerge, are de Blasio, Cuomo and/or Bloomberg possible late entrants?

Presidential politics, deal-making during the “big ugly,” charter school PAC dollars, all impacting the race at the end of the legislative session.

Would charters exchange agree to the “audit” bill in exchange for increasing the cap?  Probably not.

You might say that I’m cynical, why can’t decisions simply be made on their merits?

Somewhere around 15,000 bills will be submitted during the legislative session, and, a few hundred will become law. Legislators concentrate on bills they introduced, aside from the budget, education bills are well down the list.

The 1787 Constitutional Convention that produced our Constitution was a series of compromises, aka, “deal-making.”

I see no enthusiasm in the legislature; unless the governor decides to lean on the legislature; then again, it’s Albany.

Does the Specialized High School Admitance Test (SHSAT) Discriminate Against Black Students? or, Does the Discovery Program Discriminate Against Asian Students?

The Manhattan Institute hosted a panel, “Diversity by Decree: Is NYC’s New Policy for Elite High Schools Constitutional? The panel moderated by Troy Senik the Vice President for Policy and Programs at MI, John Yoo, Pacific Legal Foundation and the John Heller Professor of Law at U. C. Berkeley School of Law, Wai Wah Chin, President, Chinese American Citizen’s Alliance of Greater New York and Ray Dominico, Director of Education Policy at MI.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is challenging the de Blasio-Carranza use of the Discovery Program section of the Hecht-Calandra Law (1971) that embedded the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT) in statute.

The Discovery Program section of the law establishes a “second chance,” to gain acceptance for “disadvantaged students” to the Specialized High Schools,

(d) The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools. A student may be considered for the Discovery Program provided the student: (1) be one of those who takes the regular entrance examination but scores below the cut-of score (2) is certified by his local school as disadvantaged (3) is recommended by his local school as having high potential for the special high school program and (4) attends and then passes a summer preparatory program administered by the special high school…..  A candidate reached for consideration on the basis of this examination score will be accepted for admission to the Discovery Program only if his previous school record is satisfactory. Any discovery program admissions to a special high school shall not exceed fourteen (14) per cent of the number of students scoring above the cut-off score and admitted under the regular examination procedure of (b) and (c) above.

 The Discovery Program faded as the Specialized High Schools failed to support the program; additionally the “disadvantaged students” who were accepted into the program were primarily white and Asian.

It is the changes in the Discovery Program that is the basis of the legal challenge.

New York City is expanding this alternative admissions process — known as the Discovery program — as a way to increase the diversity of the specialized high schools, where black and Hispanic students are underrepresented. Though the effort has received less attention than the mayor’s ambitious proposal to get rid of the test entirely, it has an advantage because — unlike eliminating the test — it does not require the approval of the State Legislature.

By 2020, 20 percent of the ninth-grade seats in every specialized high school will be set aside for Discovery students, according to city education officials. Currently, only 5 percent of the 4,000 ninth-grade seats are filled through Discovery.

And who makes it into the program will also change. Students are currently eligible if they meet the city Education Department’s criteria for being disadvantaged. But under the new plan, only students who attended high-poverty middle schools will be accepted. Changing to high-poverty schools means that those accepted will be more likely to be black or Hispanic, since they dominate at those schools.

John Yoo is a controversial figure;  he authored memos during the Bush administration supporting “enhanced interrogation” (aka, torture), and, recently has been critical of the Trump border wall.

Yoo was almost giddy in his presentation, quoted Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza as clear evidence that the new iteration of the Discovery Program was designed to discriminate against Asian students unconstitutionally depriving more qualified Asian students of seats in the elite schools and referenced challenges to college admissions.

Whether the current debate over the use of race in the admittance of students to college is equivalent to the elite high schools admittance is open to question.

SCOTUS, in Fisher v The University of Texas (2016), by 4-3 decision, upheld the racial elements used,

The Court held that the University of Texas’ use of race as a factor in the holistic review used to fill the spots remaining after the Top Ten Percent Plan was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Previous precedent had established that educational diversity is a compelling interest as long as it is expressed as a concrete and precise goal that is neither a quota of minority students nor an amorphous idea of diversity

Yoo reminded us that the Supreme Court has changed, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, according to Yoo, are likely not to support the Fischer when issue comes before the highest court again.

The Harvard Admissions case, alleging a quota restricting the admission of Asian students is awaiting a decision at the Circuit Court; the case will be appealed regardless of the prevailing side and could move towards the highest court, although it could take a  few years. There are similar law suits perking through courts in other areas of the country.

Yoo did not address the issue of “disparate impact;” if a test is used as a requirement of employment and adversely impacts a “protected group” the test is discriminatory absent evidence that the test is “job related.”  In Duke Power Company,

Court held that Duke’s standardized testing requirement prevented a disproportionate number of African-American employees from being hired by, and advancing to higher-paying departments within, the company. Neither the high school graduation requirement nor the two aptitude tests was directed or intended to measure an employee’s ability to learn or perform a particular job or category of jobs within the company. The Court concluded that the subtle, illegal, purpose of these requirements was to safeguard Duke’s long-standing policy of giving job preferences to its white employees.

Griggs v Duke Power Co (1971)

There are parallels to the use of tests to admit students to educational programs.

Students accepted into the elite high schools through the Discovery programs did as well as student’s accepted through the testing process: does the “disparate impact” concept challenge the use of the SHSAT?

In the early 70’s a class of Black and Puerto Rican teachers challenged the use of a qualifying examination for positions of assistant principals and principal, the court held,

[T]he examinations prepared and administered by the Board of Examiners for the licensing of supervisory personnel, such as Principals and Assistant Principals, have the de facto effect of discriminating significantly and substantially against Black and Puerto Rican applicants.

  Such a discriminatory impact is constitutionally suspect and places the burden on the Board to show that the examinations can be justified as necessary to obtain Principals, Assistant Principals and supervisors possessing the skills and qualifications required for successful performance of the duties of these positions. The Board has failed to meet this burden. Chance v Board of Examiners 1972

The litigants, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation chose to equate the Discovery program with the foundational decisions of the court; Justice Harlen’s dissent in Plessy v Ferguson (1896).

  Our Constitution in color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.  In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.   The humblest is the peer of the most powerful.  The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved….

On one hand only a handful of Black students passed the test, the entering class at Stuyvesant is over 70% Asian: is the test discriminatory, or, is the use of the new Discovery Program, that will result in Asian students having higher grades and not accepted, discriminatory?

While one can argue that the Discovery Program is part of the law, the term “disadvantaged students” is not defined, the Department has simply more narrowly defined the relvant section of the statute; clearly to achieve the intent of the law.

The issue is both emotional and controversial.

Black scholars, electeds, as well as white progressives argue that any test that advantages one racial/ethnic group over another is discriminatory, and, with a long history of racial discrimination the SHSAT is especially distasteful.  I was at a Midwestern university a few days ago and a professor of Afro-American history was appalled by the vigorous defense of the test. During the same visit I sat in on a class that discussed the many, many, centuries-old use of examinations in China to select the government ruling class,

The examination based civil service thus promoted stability and social mobility. The Confucian-based examinations meant that the local elites and ambitious would-be members of those elites across the whole of China were taught with similar values. Even though only a small fraction (about 5 percent) of those who attempted the examinations actually passed them and even fewer received titles, the hope of eventual success sustained their commitment. Those who failed to pass did not lose wealth or local social standing; as dedicated believers in Confucian orthodoxy, they served, without the benefit of state appointments, as teachers, patrons of the arts, and managers of local projects, such as irrigation works, schools, or charitable foundations

Examinations are at the core of Chinese cultural values.

I suspect the court will not sustain the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Interestingly, Afro-Americans were the largest supporters of Hillary Clinton in 2016; Asians were the second largest supporting group. While “testing” is an important value in the Asian community; the discriminatory impact of the test is of concern to younger Asians.

By the time the court challenges are resolved de Blasio and Carranza may have moved on to other careers.

UPDATE: The court refused to halt the de Blasio-Carranza revised Discovery Programwhile the case proceeds through the courts

Is Education Reform Dying or Thriving in New York City?

A week ago Eliza Shapiro posted a lengthy, well-researched article in
Politico, “,How New York Stopped Being the Nation’s Education Reform Capital.”  My question: who are the reformers and who defines reform?

Shapiro tells us,

[Reformers] sought to make New York City — the nation’s largest school district — into the central urban laboratory for education reform. They hoped to overhaul how schools evaluate teachers, and to weaken the grip of the powerful teachers’ union by loosening tenure laws. If they could accomplish those foundational reforms — in a deep blue state, no less — then perhaps New York could serve as a beacon for similar efforts across the country.

In the last three years, education reformers have made little progress in transforming the city’s public schools. Efforts to change teacher evaluations and tenure here have sputtered and stalled. Dreams of political domination have receded as policy disappointments have multiplied.

The Bloomberg/Klein and policy think tank reforms have waned; however, perhaps less controversial and more impactful reforms are in progress.

“The rollback of education reform in New York has been the most dramatic in the country,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Interviews with three dozen current and former New York state and city education officials, charter school leaders, teachers’ union brass and education researchers revealed how inconsistent policies, poor implementation and shifting national politics compromised reform efforts here.

While the Duncan/Bloomberg/Klein reform efforts have fallen by the wayside reform has continued, a slower more consensus -driven reform.

Larry Cuban and David Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” a must-read for anyone involved in education policy tracks education reform efforts over time and concludes that if reform is to become “sticky,” to actually change teaching and learning, the reforms must include teachers and parents.  The road to reform is littered with policies that have been rejected in the classrooms across the nation. The vast literature on personal and organizational change tells us, “participation reduces resistance” and “change is perceived as punishment.” The reforms of the last decade, imposed from above, were doomed, regardless of their value.

The first problem: was the system broken? The reformers worked under the assumption that the system was dysfunctional and all that came before them must be cast aside, or, to be more cynical, trashed the system to defend the sweeping changes they proposed.

I’m not going to defend all aspects of the New York City school system, dozens of high schools were dropout mills, too many teachers were provisionally certified because they couldn’t pass the required pre-service tests, the elected school boards in the poorest districts were rife with cronyism; however, the system was far from broken. A fascinating massive study of college graduates , released in January, 2017, is informative,

The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records. Published Wednesday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus.

At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.

Not only CCNY,

Three CUNY colleges are among the top 10 in the country in enrolling low-income students and graduating them into solid careers. Six more CUNY baccalaureate colleges are in the top 10 percent of the 918 U.S. colleges included in the study.

The CUNY students are almost all graduates of New York City public high schools. As a member of the board of the CCNY Alumni Association I am on the CCNY campus frequently, the student body is extremely diverse, and, impressive.

The so-called reformers, for the most part, did not come from within the system and were not traditional educators. They were lawyers, economists, Teach for America grads, who honestly believed they held the holy grail.

Sadly, they didn’t, and, the system continued swing from reform to reform.

In the late sixties David Rogers, a sociologist, wrote, “110 Livingston Street,”

This is a rigorous sociological examination of “”bureaucratic pathology within the school system.”” Rogers, who chooses New York City as a “”strategic case”” of a national sickness in public education, conducted this study for the Center for Urban Education. Here he presents a full history: unofficial blocking of desegregation, inefficiency, fragmentation of functions, failure.

The next reform, decentralization, created a fragmented school system, the middle class districts thrived, dedicated school board members, innovative programs, deep community involvement while the poorest districts were saw rapacious local leaders who fought for power and jobs, and, the local electeds who benefited from the system allowed the poorest kids in the poorest districts to suffer.

In my view the reforms of the Bloomberg years, with exceptions, were ill-conceived and harmful. For example, the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, at a cost of 150 million a year, was just senseless. Reformers were fixated on ridding the system of “bad teachers,” without any definition of “bad,” and succeeded in going to war with all teachers and many parents.

I an not going to recount and assess the reform policies, I am going to argue that reform is not dead, reform is now a process that has not garnered headlines but has moved the school system in a far better direction.

The Universal Pre kindergarten and the new “3K for All” are dramatic reforms that over the years will have an immense impact on improving outcomes.

Under the radar, the fifty or so transfer high schools, schools for “overage/under credited” students, about 2500 students citywide, serve students who would have been dropouts, the transfer schools graduate about half their students, while a 50% graduation rate is below the ESSA requirements the state, acknowledging the value of these schools has a separate metric for assessing the schools.

Under Bloomberg almost 3% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings based solely on supervisory observations and about 40% of probationary teachers had their probation extended. Did this policy improve the quality of teaching? We have no idea. Under the current administration, working with Albany, teachers are now assessed by a complex combination of supervisory observations and measures of student learning, the system, referred to as the matrix, is supported by the union, in spite of some member discomfit.

Even further under the radar about 10% of all schools have chosen to participate in a UFT-Department of Education collaboration, using the acronym PROSE, (See detailed description here)

PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Schools range from staggered teacher/student schedules to teacher peer assessment, all collaboratively agreed to by the school leadership and the school staff. For me, taking ownership of your practice is the most essential reform.

Bloomberg administration, with the support of the union reinvigorated Career and Technical high schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. A Manhattan Institute report, “New CTE: A New York City Laboratory in America,”

The March, 2016, points to substantial reforms, beginning with Bloomberg and continuing under the de Blasio mayoralty,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.

 City Journal, a Manhattan Institute publication, in June, 2017 continues to track the CTE movement in New York City,

Encouragingly, policymakers have begun to offer programs to train students for such good jobs—and the early results are promising. In 2008, a task force commissioned by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recommended overhauling and expanding the city’s career and technical training. Among the suggestions that the city adopted was a push to instill in high school technical programs “a strong academic foundation in literacy and numeracy” to prepare for today’s job market. The city also reformed vocational schooling to include apprenticeships, intern programs, and other work-related learning, seeking to ensure that students who don’t go on to college have some kind of certification or path to further training. Based on the task-force recommendations, the city has opened 25 new career and technical schools since 2010 and added vocational training to many others. New York now runs 50 schools entirely dedicated to career education and another 75 career academies within larger general-education schools, serving some 26,000 students in New York City.

Reform is far from dead in New York City, the “new” reform has continued meritorious initiatives and curtailed the foolish and harmful initiatives. The striking difference is that the union, parents and electeds are not only on board they are an integral party of the reform process.

I know there are cynics, all progress is manipulated, the school system is “bad,” the only answers are returning to the “good old days,” or, trashing everything and enlarging “choice;” the parachuting experts from the ivory towers of think tanks and universities who have “all the answers.”  A friend of mine begins each professional development session with “the answers are in the room.”

New York City is bubbling over with thoughtful, effective schools and programs, most of which bubbled up from staffs, the International High Schools Network, fifteen schools that serve English Language Learners who are new arrivals, Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, with highly flexible hours and total wraparound services, and on and on, the issue, how do we scale up success?  The International High School Network grew from one school to fifteen in the city and another fifteen or more across the nation.

With a mayor, a chancellor, a union president and a Board of Regents pretty much on the same page I am hopeful that progress will continue. Splashy reforms runoff into sewers, reforms that grow from classroom seeds embed and flower. City As School was one of the first alternative high schools;  I congratulated the founding principal; I thought the school  was a brilliant idea, he replied, “Speak to me two or three principals down the road, if you feel the same way I did my job.” Half a century later the school is still thriving. Good people, good ideas, hard work will create a better and better school system.

Suspensions: Useful Tool to Improve Student Behavior, or, Racist Acts, or, the Inevitable Outcomes from “Truly Disadvantaged” Poverty?

School suspensions, the removal of students from classes for a specific period of time for a violation of school rules, are one of those topics that never seems to be resolved. The Manhattan Institute held its snow-delayed forum discussing the release of a report, “School Discipline Reform and Disorder: Evidence from New York City Public Schools, 2012 – 2016.”  Max Eden, the author of the study avers;  while data shows far more suspensions of Afro-American males than any other group it does not necessarily mean that the suspension system is discriminatory: correlation does not mean causation. Over the last few years the Department has sharply reduced suspensions.. Eden examined student and teacher surveys of school climate and reports that during the recent (2015-16) period sharp decreases in school suspensions coupled with an easing of the Discipline Code; both students and teacher in high poverty schools report  increases discipline problems, in sharp contrast to the Department of Education who praise their own efforts. Lois Herrera, the Department rep had her own set of favorable data and Derek Jackson, the Director Local 237, the School Safety Agent union pointed to significant changes in the methods of reporting, what had been a summons, has become a warning letter, possession of marijuana is not longer a crime, etc., Jackson argues the city data is far from reality. Read the report here. Howard Husock, a Manhattan Institute vice president did an excellent job of moderating a contentious session;.

I wrote about the issue a month ago, “The Suspension Conundrum: Do Suspensions Improve Behavior and Academic Outcomes for All Students or Are Suspensions a Pipeline to Dropping Out and Prison,” Read here.

On one side of the fence  the “pipeline to prison” folk who argue that reducing or eliminating suspensions would dramatically improve outcomes for young men of color versus the, for lack of a better term, law and order folk, who argue that disruptive students interfere with learning and erode outcomes for the other students in the class.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a Harvard historian whose research focuses on racial criminalization and the origins of the carceral state  is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard University Press, 2010),  Muhammad would argue that extremely high suspension rates of Afro-American males is a continuation of policies that emanate from the end of reconstruction to Jim Crow laws, to prisons that re-enslaved blacks continuing up to modern day America, crack laws meant prison, powder cocaine, a fine, and even today opiate abuse, mostly in white communities is a health crisis, possession of crack in a black neighborhood means prison.

For the sake of this argument lets decouple the prison “criminalization” issue for school discipline.

For me, suspension is a post-event response, we require pre-event interventions. Are students, who are subject to high poverty risk load factors, more likely to be suspended, and, if so, can we intervene early to correct unacceptable behavior before suspendable events?

Unfortunately the feds, the United States Department of Education response, the Obama-Duncan-King approach bypasses schools, school districts and states and imposes well meaning and deeply flawed “solutions.”   $4.3 billions in Race to the Top dollars encouraged states to impose student test scored based teacher evaluations, the Common Core and Common Core based accountability testing  and succeeded in alienating teachers and parents and are responsible for beginning an assault on public education.

The attack on student suspensions comes from the USDE. Secretaries of Education issue “Dear Colleague Letters,” in theory clarifying laws or regulations, in reality a way of threatening school districts and states with a loss of federal funding if they fail to comply with specific laws or regulations as interpreted by the Secretary.

In January, 2014 the Secretary of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter,

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (Departments) are issuing this guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

The letter begins with a supportive tone,

The Departments strongly support schools in their efforts to create and maintain safe and orderly educational environments that allow our nation’s students to learn and thrive. Many schools have adopted comprehensive, appropriate, and effective programs demonstrated to: (1) reduce disruption and misconduct; (2) support and reinforce positive behavior and character development; and (3) help students succeed. Successful programs may incorporate a wide range of strategies to reduce misbehavior and maintain a safe learning environment, including conflict resolution, restorative practices, counseling, and structured systems of positive interventions. The Departments recognize that schools may use disciplinary measures as part of a program to promote safe and orderly educational environments.

The letter changes tone and conflates suspensions with violations of federal law,

Regardless of the program adopted, Federal law prohibits public school districts from discriminating in the administration of student discipline based on certain personal characteristics.

The Departments initiate investigations of student discipline policies and practices at particular schools based on complaints the Departments receive from students, parents, community members, and others about possible racial discrimination in student discipline.3 The Departments also may initiate investigations based on public reports of racial disparities in student discipline combined with other information, or as part of their regular compliance monitoring activities.

Schools are reminded, however, that they must ensure that their discipline policies and practices comply with all applicable constitutional requirements and Federal laws, including civil rights statutes and regulations.

The letter makes a case for what is referred to as “disproportionality,”

The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC),5 conducted by OCR, has demonstrated that students of certain racial or ethnic groups6 tend to be disciplined more than their peers. For example, African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended.

The Departments recognize that disparities in student discipline rates in a school or district may be caused by a range of factors. However, research suggests that the substantial racial disparities of the kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.7 Although statistical and quantitative data would not end an inquiry under Title IV or Title VI, significant and unexplained racial disparities in student discipline give rise to concerns that schools may be engaging in racial discrimination that violates the Federal civil rights laws.

The use of the term, “research suggests” is disturbing, as is the use of “may be engaging in racial discrimination.”  The letter goes on to fully support the school “pipeline to prison” trope, and, not so subtly encourages school districts to abandon suspensions and implement alternatives to suspension,

Schools are safer when all students feel comfortable and are engaged in the school community, and when teachers and administrators have the tools and training to prevent and address conflicts and challenges as they arise. Equipping school officials with an array of tools to support positive student behavior – thereby providing a range of options to prevent and address misconduct – will both promote safety and avoid the use of discipline policies that are discriminatory or inappropriate.

The feds skip to a chilling determination, the referring of a student for disciplinary action, like sending to a counselor, or a dean or the principal may be a discriminatory act on the part of the school, “…the initial referral of a student to the principal’s office for misconduct is a decision point that can raise concerns, to the extent that it entails the subjective exercise of unguided discretion in which racial biases or stereotypes may be manifested.

 In their investigations of school discipline, the Departments have noted that the initial referral of a student to the principal’s office for misconduct is a decision point that can raise concerns, to the extent that it entails the subjective exercise of unguided discretion in which racial biases or stereotypes may be manifested. If a school refers students for discipline because of their race, the school has engaged in discriminatory conduct regardless of whether the student referred has engaged in misbehavior. And even if the referrals do not ultimately lead to the imposition of disciplinary sanctions, the referrals alone result in reduced classroom time and academic instruction for the referred student. Furthermore, if a sanction from a discriminatory referral becomes part of the student’s school record, it could potentially enhance the penalty for subsequent misconduct and follow the student throughout the student’s academic career. Therefore, it is incumbent upon a school to take effective steps to eliminate all racial discrimination in initial discipline referrals.

The letter raises the legal principle of “disparate impact,”

… policy itself does not mention race – and is administered in an evenhanded manner but has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.

“Disparate impact” equates to discrimination.

Bottom line: if greater percentages of students in “protected categories” are suspended this is evidence of discrimination.

The letter goes on for page after page spelling out scores of examples and defining, well, sort of defining which situations would be violations of federal statute. Simply, if you suspend more Afro-American than students white students the feds will consider this data evidence of discrimination on the part of the school district.

The larger unaddressed issue is the authority of the feds to impose these types of rules on schools. Aren’t issues like suspension policy, and curriculum, and teacher certification, etc., issues best left to the states? The new Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires each state to create a state accountability plan – namely, identifying the lowest achieving Title 1 schools in the state. The easing of the federal role under the current Secretary may result in the rescission of the suspension “Dear Colleague” letter, and, probably also abandoning the active pursuit of school districts for alleged discriminatory acts around suspension policies.

New York State juvenile justice statistics show that juvenile crime is heavily concentrated in a few neighborhoods. You can superimpose poverty by zip code over the same areas as well as poverty risk load factors, not surprisingly the same schools with high suspension rates are located in high crime communities along with unemployment,  shelters, etc. Within these geographic catchments schools have high rates of suspension, and, a few virtually no suspensions.  Are the schools accepting chaos? Or, have they figured out alternatives?

A number of years ago I worked in a consultant capacity on a high suspension high school campus. The Department school safety folk showed us how to map suspensions: identifying the geographic location in the school of the precipitating event. The most common area: classrooms or outside of classrooms of inexperienced and/or less effective teachers. We worked with specific teachers, improving the quality of instruction and reduced suspensions.

I don’t oppose the restorative practices, I’m just not confident that interceding after the event is an effective approach.  Unless what takes place during the period of suspension: counseling, meeting with the parent, etc.,  improves behavior, the suspension process is not effective.

I fear we are not selecting school leaders with the proper skills as well as properly providing teachers with the requisite skills. Once again, the “answer” is not in Washington.

What are the qualities of teachers, school leaders and school communities with low or no suspensions in high suspension catchment areas?

A topic for another blog: for me, the crux of the issue.

The Suspension Conundrum: Do Suspensions Improve Behavior and Academic Outcomes for All Students or, a Pipeline to Dropping Out and Prison?

A few weeks after the election of de Blasio in 2013 I dropped by the transition tent to listen to a panel of community activists talk education. The panel trashed the Department of Education over excessive numbers of student suspensions, for the panelists, evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” was alive and well.

(Read here, here  and here).

The data is clear, students who are suspended in the 4th grade are likely not to graduate high school and the more frequent the suspensions the more likely the student will enter the criminal justice system.

As a reaction school districts have sharply curtailed the numbers of suspensions, especially in urban school systems.

Twenty-seven states have revised their laws to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, and more than 50 of America’s largest school districts, serving more than 6.35 million students, have implemented discipline reforms. From 2011–12 to 2013–14, the number of suspensions nationwide fell by nearly 20%.

Is there a downside to reducing suspensions?

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

A just-released report from the Manhattan Institute (“School Discipline Reform and Disorder: Evidence from New York City Public School, 2012 – 2016 “) takes a deep dive into the suspension and school climate data.

The report concludes,

[School discipline] deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report [note: using school survey data] less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform.

Supporters of the regulations limiting suspensions argue that new approaches, restorative justice and, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports  are in the beginning phases of implementation, it will take a number of years to train school staffs and assess the effectiveness.

What is missing from the debate are the underlying questions:

* Are students actually exhibiting behaviors that are inappropriate in school settings, and, if so, why?

* Is the failure of teachers to address these behaviors the cause of the suspensions? Is the preparation of school leaders/teachers inadequate? Are school leaders/teachers culturally and racially insensitive?

* Do suspensions modify the behavior of the students who are suspended?

* Do suspensions improve the outcomes for the remainder of the students in the classes?

and a core question,

Why do schools with similar populations have such different rates of suspension?  Are we preparing and selecting the “right” school leaders?

I was visiting a middle school in community (in)famous for handgun violence. One school was on the first two floors and another on the top floor. As I walked up the stairs it was sadly clear that the school on the lower floors was out-of-control. The school on the top floor was totally in order. Same kids from the same community, different school leaders with different skill sets and different outcomes.

A campus high school, four schools in a building, had a long history of school suspensions. A since retired head of school safety looked over the data and explained how to construct a school safety grid. We mapped the “precipitating event” and time of the “event” on a map of the school. It was fascinating!!  The “precipitating events” took place in and around the student cafeteria and in the hallways. The hallway events were clustered near classrooms with newer and/or less effective teachers.  More supervision in the cafeteria and more help for targeted teachers led to a more orderly school, at least , for a while.

The key to reducing suspension are the effectiveness of the school leaders and the classroom teachers. Should Lisa Delpit (““The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,”) be a foundational text for every teacher preparation classroom, or, because it is the foundational text, is that the source of poorly prepared teachers?

Will increasing the numbers of black teachers improve outcomes and reduce suspensions of black students? and, if so, why? (Read research findings here)

…there is compelling evidence that when students have a teacher of the same race, they tend to learn more at school (see “The Race Connection,” research, Spring 2004).

Those findings raise a parallel question: Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?

David Kirkland, A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men (Teachers College Press, 2013)

… argues that educators need to understand the social worlds of African-American males to break the school-to-prison pipeline cycle.  The book asks the education community to listen to the voices of black youth to better understand what it means to be literate in a multicultural, democratic society.

Once again, is the source of the “problem” the failure to properly prepare teachers and school leaders?

If we expect student behavior to improve we must modify our behaviors. Suspension is a last resort, yes, occasionally the “street” does win. Schools reflect the cultures of their communities. The role of a school is to convince students to become “bi-cultural,” to accept that the culture of the street is not acceptable in a school setting. Teachers have argued that a suspension may “straighten out” a kid, and, is a lesson for the other kids: misbehave and you’ll be next to be suspended.  Does zero tolerance or suspensions improve outcomes for the remainder of the class?

The most common place for pickpockets to ply there trade was at the hangings of pickpockets. The area of deterrence theory may be applicable to the question of school discipline “The Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket’s Hanging,”

This study examines the premise that criminals make informed and calculated decisions. The findings suggest that 76% of active criminals and 89% of the most violent criminals either perceive no risk of apprehension or are incognizant of the likely punishments for their crimes.

Studying behaviors of principals in low suspension schools in high suspensions districts is a place to begin. Unfortunately school district leadership usually looks for the quick fix, the “program” that will “fix” the problem. I have no objection to restorative practices or PBIS, I have rarely seen a program that fixes such a deep-seated issue. “Turning off the faucet,” changing the regs to limit suspensions, does not resolve the underlying issue. Harsh and rigid suspension rules do not  appear to impact the suspended student or the remainder of the students.

Some principals and teachers have figured this out, maybe we should find them and listen to them.