Tag Archives: Merryl Tisch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See my blog here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New, Feisty Board of Regents Explores Principal Preparation: Why Don’t We Have Better Principals?

[Election Update: Yuh Line Niou won the six-way primary in Shelly Silver’s former district as well as all other Ed in the Apple endorsed candidates with the exception of Robert Jackson; however, the Bloomberg/Charter candidate, Micah Lasher lost to a candidate supported by the Independent Democratic Coalition – the breakaway gang of five that caucuses with the Republicans]

The new Board of Regents is a feisty group!!

The Board is a policy board; they hire the CEO, the commissioner, and set overall policy for the state. The line between what is policy and what are operations is a blurred line: a prime example.

In December the Regents voted to accept the 21 recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force on the Common Core.

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

A month later the Department announced a shift to untimed tests;  the “formal review” apparently did not involve the Board.

Initially the Commissioner was ecstatic over the unparalleled one year jump in test scores, until the Chancellor, Betty Rosa tuned down the exuberance.  Without knowing which students took extended time the state has set a new baseline, there can be no valid comparisons – you cannot compare apples to oranges. The Regents members were clearly unhappy – why weren’t they involved in the “formal review?”

Under the leadership of Chancellor Tisch and John King, with a few exceptions, the Board was quiescent.

The current members are activists, in order to create policy they clearly intend to take a deep dive into the issue. A prime example: the four exams required for teacher certification. The co-chairs of the Higher Education Committee have held forums all over the state, hundreds of college staff, and degree seekers, have attended and testified. The Board is leading the steps to reconfigure the teacher preparation process that was imposed by Tisch/King.

No longer does the Chancellor and the Commissioner run the show. Chancellor Rosa epitomizes collaborating with her Regent partners.

The September 12th Regents Meeting began with a detailed exploration of a new grant from the Wallace Foundation:  the Principal Preparation Project. In prior years the project would have landed with the Regents Research Fellows with a nary a word of discussion with the Regents members. The world has changed.

After a Power Point presentation the new Board peppered the Deputy Commissioner with questions;

Regent Johnson mused over the purpose of the project.  We must acknowledge the impact of poverty, issues of race and changing demographics. Why weren’t Civil Rights organizations on the team? Regent Mead was concerned over the three years of teaching as a minimum requirement – New York City has a seven year requirement. Regent Norwood was wondering why social/emotional issues appeared absent from the project as well as working in diverse environments, and, the retention of leaders in low performing schools were absent. Regent Brown was concerned with the absence of diversity concerns in the project, should issues of race, i. e., “white privilege” and “cultural competency,” be included in project curriculum?

The discussion went on and on….

In order to become a principal in New York State the applicant must complete an “approved” program; however, the selection is by the elected lay school board, or, in New York City, by the Chancellor; all the state does is create an applicant pool.

A little history:

The first wave of reform swept the nation after the Civil War and culminated in the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 – establishing a federal civil service system. The reform movement moved to the states, and, after the creation of New York City (“The Great Consolidation”), the merging of the five boroughs, the legislature moved to reform a political hiring system, by creating a Board of Examiners.

Read a history of principal selection here: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/the-quest-for-the-leadership-gene-how-do-we-findselect-the-best-school-leaders/

From rigorous examinations to a handful of credits and selection by elected Community School Boards to the Leadership Academy, we haven’t found any magic bullets.

Half-jokingly, I mused that maybe there was a leadership gene. Maybe I’m right!

… a quarter of the observed variation in leadership behaviour between individuals can be explained by genes passed down from their parents. – See more at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0113/15012013-leadership-genetics#sthash.Nmnip8lR.dpuf

If you ask teachers about supervisor competence you will find a wide variability, some praise school leaders, many more are critical.  An NYU Study a few years ago, using student scores on state exams as a measurement: insignificant differences between Leadership Academy and non-Leadership Academy principals.

I have a few questions:

* What percentages of applicants are accepted into leadership programs? Is the quality of the applicant’s teaching part of the applicant selection process, and, if so, how do you measure the quality? (I fear programs accept the vast percentage of applicants)

* Are online or blended learning courses acceptable? Are these courses of the same quality as face-to-face courses?

* How often does the supervising teacher visit the candidate? Four times a year? Weekly? What is the quality of the internship? How is it measured?

* What percentage of candidates find jobs within five years? How successful are the candidates as supervisors and how do we measure success?

The finest leadership I have seen is the leadership provided by coaches, whether athletic, music or dance.

The ultimate question: is this project worthwhile?  Since the state does not hire or supervise principals can changing the requirements actually change who gets hired?  Do we have to change the “hirers” before we can change the “hirees”?

Looking ahead: every state must comply with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and design a state plan -more about the process in my next post.

Why Did New York State Test Scores Jump? Better Instruction? Untimed Tests? All the Kids Got Smarter, or, Shenanigans?

If you want to bury a news story you issue the press release on a Friday afternoon, if you want as much mileage as possible you issue the release on a Tuesday morning, followed by a press conference, in person and online, followed by laudatory speeches across the state and try to maximize the time the story garners headlines and clicks.

The State Education Department released the 2016 grades 3-8 ELA and Math scores on Friday afternoon with an odd presser. The test scores up, way up; why is the SED ashamed?

You can take a deep dive into the New York City Scores here: http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/data/TestResults/ELAandMathTestResults

The SED analysis of the state scores with many disaggregated charts here and here.

The Commissioner was careful not to publicly laud the increase in the scores,

But rather than celebrate the largest bump since New York adopted new tests tied to the Common Core Learning Standards, education officials reported the increases with caution. They suggested that changes in how the tests were given – not actual improvement by schools and students – may have accounted for the gains.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia also warned against making comparisons with previous years, which is typically done to evaluate schools and teachers.

“It’s not an apples to apples comparison and should be viewed in that context,” Elia said during a news conference when the results were released Friday.

For the data wonks who want to parse the results check out the files here and here.

The SED states, “…  changes in how the tests were given – not actual improvement by schools and students – may have accounted for the gains;” however, a deeper analysis is necessary.

If the increases are due to fewer questions and untimed tests, we should know, if both teachers and kids have been exposed to the more effective Common Core instruction and better professional development, we should know, or, if the SED, as some suspect, manipulated the process, we should know. All of the kids in New York State getting smarter just doesn’t seem creditable.

Under Commissioner Mills test scores increased year after year, when Chancellor Tisch and new Commissioner Steiner took over they asked a Harvard professor, Daniel Koretz to take a look – sure enough – the SED had been using many of the same questions year after year. Whether incompetence, or, more likely a method of increasing scores, we’ll never know. Scandals in Atlanta and accusations elsewhere have cast doubt on the entire testing regimen. Jumps in test scores are treated with skepticism.

For years Howard T. Everson chaired the Regents Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and was sharply critical of test score inflation.

But given all the flaws of the test, said Prof. Howard T. Everson of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Study in Education, it is hard to tell what those rising scores really meant.

“Teachers began to know what was going to be on the tests,” said Professor Everson, who was a member of a state testing advisory panel and who warned the state in 2008 that it might have a problem with score inflation. “Then you have to wonder, and folks like me wonder, is that real learning or not?”

Each year after the release of the state tests scores the TAC issued a lengthy analysis of the quality of the test. Recently the TAC process has changed, as I understand the current process the TAC report goes to the test creator, Pearson, (now replaced by Questar) who vets the report, over the last few years the report was released a year after the test and was so heavily “massaged” it was meaningless.

The SED/Regents should, in the footsteps of Tisch and Steiner, immediately ask Everson or Koretz or a colleague with equally impeccable credentials to examine the current state test results.

If, in fact, the Commissioner doesn’t know why scores jumped we have to ask: why not?  If untimed tests resulted in higher test scores shouldn’t Regents Exams be untimed?  If the increased exposure to better Common Core instruction resulted in higher scores why are the Algebra 1 and Geometry scores not increasing?

Shrugging and simply saying we’re happy with increased scores but we’re clueless as to why is simply not acceptable. Data should influence policy at all levels, and, we have to be confident that the testing regimen is creditable.

The New York State Legislature Adjourns with a “Whimper,”as Educational Policy-Making Moves to the Board of Regents

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

The last stanza of Eliot’s poem is an apt description of the end of the 2016 legislative session. The final days, called “the Big Ugly,” is a scramble, an endgame, the Republicans and the Democrats vying for an advantage as the state moves toward the November election. All the seats in the legislature, the 150 in the Assembly and the 63 in the Senate will be on the ballot. While the Assembly is firmly in the Democratic column the Senate is far more complex, and byzantine. The Democrats hold a single seat edge in the Senate (32-31); however five Democrats (Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, Tony Avella, David Valesky, and David Carlucci), the Independent Democrat Conference (IDF), under the leadership of Klein (Bronx) caucuses with the Republicans, giving the Republicans control of the Senate.

Hanging in the balance were mayoral control, campaign finance reform, removal of pensions for convicted legislators, online fantasy sports betting and scores of other bills.

You may ask: why is all this conflict and wheeling and dealing necessary? Why can’t legislators have civil conversations and decide the issues?

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

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

The Constitutional Convention (1787) was not covered in CSPAN; the Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting. The only notes we have are Madison’s personal notes, not made public until after the death of all the delegates, The fifty-three delegates argued, came and went, delivered lengthy speeches, met in private, and made deals.

Slavery was one of the most significant stumbling blocks, the anti-slavery Northerners versus the slave-holding South, The compromise: slavery is not mentioned in the constitution, the question of slavery was left to the states, and, as part of a compromise; slaves were counted as 3/5th of a ”free person,” and referred to in the clause as “all other Persons.”

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Deal-making, as reprehensible as it may seem, is at the essence of making government work.

Whether to extend mayoral control in New York City had nothing to do with education. Weakening the mayor might give the Republicans a chance in the 2017 mayoral election. In spite of pleas from Merryl Tisch and others in the upper echelons of power Senate leader John Flanagan offered “unacceptable” plan after plan until in the closing hours an agreement was reached, the NY Times describes the plan as a one year extension plus,,

It would effectively create a parallel system of charter schools within the city, allowing “high-performing charter schools in good standing” to switch to join the State University of New York umbrella or the Board of Regents of the State Education Department.

Probably a meaningless change, currently charters schools authorized by both New York City and Buffalo make reauthorization proposals after five years, the authorizer, SUNY or the Board of Regents can reject the recommendation. The proposal allows the charter school, if it’s  “high performing and in good standing” to move directly to SUNY or the Regents for reauthorization.

The session is most interesting for what it did not do – the houses steered clear of legislation directing the State Education Department to take any actions. A host of education bills simply died. Neither the governor nor the party leaders had any desire to once again get involved in the morass of teacher accountability or testing, any of the issues that birthed the opt outs and/or angered teachers and their unions.

The budget was generous and the political leaders appear to be leaving the educational decisions to the educational leaders.

In December the Cuomo-appointed Task Force released their report with 21-recommendations: a blueprint for the Commissioner and the Board of Regents. The core of the report was a 4-year moratorium on the use of student test scores as part of a metric to assess teacher performance.

In the six months since the release of the report the Commissioner has made tests untimed, a recommendation in the report, established a number of large field-based committees to review elements of the Common Core, and, the Regents created a number of alternative pathways to graduation.

Quietly, very quietly, the Commissioner announced a change in the observation section of the teacher evaluation regulation. The outside observer would be scrapped – what might be a good idea in theory was both overly complex and a financial burden on school districts. There was no high drama – no headlines, simply an announcement undoubtedly based on quiet discussions.

The decisions before the Board of Regents are complex, politically explosive and without explicit answers.

Can you create a teacher evaluation plan that is acceptable to principals and teachers and not trashed by external critics?

Can better tests win back opt out parents?  And, what do you mean by “better tests?”

Will alternatives to testing, perhaps, portfolios or other performance assessments, be acceptable to the feds, and acceptable to the principals and teachers?  Are performance assessments practicable in actual classroom settings?

Will additional alternative pathways to high school graduation make students more or less prepared for college?

The Regents appear to have a window – three or four years – to make decisions based on their expertise as well as respond to external pressures and scrutiny, and, hovering aloft: “disruptive” solutions such as unlimited charter schools or vouchers.

Windows open, and windows close.

Mayoral Control, Appointed or Elected Boards of Education: Are Urban School Districts Governable?

About 4 AM next Friday morning one of houses of the state legislature will adjourn closing out the session; with cries of they have to return over the summer to complete this issue or that issue. Extremely unlikely.

The bills will come across the legislators desks at a rapid pace, with most voted before they are read. A few are high profile: closing loopholes in the campaign finance law, legalizing fantasy sports gambling, a constitutional amendment to deprive convicted legislators of their pensions, and, mayoral control of New York City schools, the vast majority of the bills are far, far under the radar.

The Assembly bill extends mayoral control for three years; the Senate bill extends mayoral control for one year and creates an Inspector, appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate with sweeping powers. If no action is taken the system reverts to a seven-member board appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor.

The governor supports a three year extension and the power elites support continuing mayoral control. Merryl Tisch in an op ed in the NY Daily News supports extending mayoral control.

Tisch posits,

Mayoral control has not worked perfectly under either Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Mayor de Blasio, but it has worked far better than what we had before. New York City has seen consistent, significant increases in graduation rates, greater accountability across the system and the introduction of robust school choice — giving students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for a quality education. Critically, unlike the system that preceded mayoral control, we now know who is in charge. The voters ultimately can hold the CEO of the city accountable for how well our children learn.

Famously, when someone criticized a Bloomberg educational policy he responded, “Don’t vote for me next time.”

Although the mayoral control debate will end in a few days it has been characterized by an absence of debate.

Has “robust school choice” given “students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for quality education” or further segregated the school system by race, class and income?

The Bloomberg administration created scores of “screened” schools, schools that only accepts kids with high test scores, creating “have” and “have not” schools. Were these schools created to “provide school choice” or to win over middle class parents and garner potential voters?

Numbers of school suspensions have dropped dramatically: are our kids better behaved, do our teachers have been peace-making skills or did the chancellor simply tighten the faucet on approving suspensions?

Under a mayoral control system every announcement, every initiative is accompanied by a carefully crafted press release. I’m sure that the “mayor’s person” is sitting at the table vetting the political impact of every decision.

The previous seven-member appointed board has been vilified as being too political, I have to smile. The borough president appointee fought for projects for their borough while the mayor fights for projects for the entire city, or, his/her voting base.

Under the current mayoral control system the Community Educational Councils (CEC) are toothless and superintendents carry the Tweed policy torch. While under the prior elected school board system the poorest districts had the least effective boards there were highly effective boards that responded to local communities.

District 2 in Manhattan under the leadership of an innovative superintendent had an extensive and effective professional development program that impacted classroom instruction. District 22 in Brooklyn bused over 1,000 Afro-American kids for integration purposes, no court order, it was simply the right thing to do; they also implemented school-based budgeting with empowered school and district leadership teams. A superintendent in the poorest district in Brooklyn, appointed by the chancellor unified a fractious district and improved student outcomes.

Does the current mayoral-guided system build sustainability or will the next and the next school district leader impose their view of education policy?

Unfortunately educational policy appears to be the flavor of the week.

Transparency and open debate must guide all change processes. Participation reduces resistance.

Teachers and parents increasingly came to despise Bloomberg/Klein mayoral control hubris – if you don’t like the policy, don’t vote for me.  So far the de Blasio/Farina interregnum has had a kinder and gentler face. While Bloomberg/Klein treated teachers like replaceable widgets deBlasio/Farina have constantly praised the workforce.

The larger issue is creating a process that has highly competent leadership at the top and local leaders with the ability and support to make the right decisions at the school level.

Next week a decision will be made; probably to continue mayoral control, maybe with a blue ribbon commission to review the current iteration.

Parents, teachers and school leaders voice must be part of any school governance process.

From “Good Old Boys” to “Sisterhood,” A New Leadership Begins in Albany

The monthly meeting of the Board of Regents typically have lengthy agendas, some items are pro-forma, other subject to extended discussion. Each month a division of State Ed recommends the extension of charters, depending on the data either a full five year term or fewer years if there are problems to be remedied.. The staffers only recommended a three year extension for a few charter schools in Buffalo. Bob Bennett, at that time a Regents member for over twenty years and the former chancellor objected. He failed to acknowledge that his daughter taught in a charter school. He claimed he “knew the school” and it deserved the full five year extension. The “good old boys” huddled, changed the recommendation to five years, cast aside a few objections, and passed the full extension.

Merryl Tisch had a close relationship with the Shelly Silver, the disgraced former Speaker and the “good old boys” Regents members supported the Tisch/King initiatives. There was nothing evil or corrupt; Board members who had served together for over twenty years were collegial, very collegial.

The world of the Regents has changed, and changed dramatically. Over the past year seven new Regents members have been appointed by the new Speaker of the Assembly – six women, five of them educators, an active public school parent and a nurse.

The Regents moved from the “good old boys” club to the “sisterhood.”

On Monday Betty Rosa will assume the leadership of the Board of Regents.

Chancellor Rosa is not a naïf.

She was the superintendent in District 8, which covers Hunts Point and Soundview, one of the poorest sections in the nation. District 8 is in the Bronx and politics in the Bronx parallels politics in Afghanistan – warring families rule Bronx politics and Betty navigated the politics; excellent training for her current job.

The Chancellor of the Board of Regents cannot eliminate annual grade 3-8 testing. No matter how adamant the opt outs, the law requires annual testing. The Commissioner has already started the process to review sections of the Common Core – it will take a  year or more. Can you tweak the high school graduation requirements to jack up the graduation rate at the same time community college graduations rates are appalling?

The Chancellor has to choose a path, has to stake out her ground. She has to narrowly focus, a laser-like focus on a few areas, perhaps English language learners. The current regulations, passed only a year ago after many years of hassling behind the scenes are bureaucratic and unworkable.

Can the new Chancellor and the full Board work to further refine and implement the recommendations of the Working Group for Improving Outcomes for Young Men and Boys of Color?

The attacks will come from all sides.

The opt outs want aggressive actions to prohibit high stakes testing.

Well-funded anti-union super-PACs will continue to attack unions and tenure.

The district to district funding inequities are the “elephant in the room,” can you equalize school funding with a Robin Hood impact? Taking from the richer and giving to the poorer districts?

Hovering in the wings is the Speaker of the Assembly who selected the new Board members and the Governor, How much rope do the Regents have?  Can the new Chancellor and the Board, older and newer members, take actions that will be praised by the New York Times, parents and the unions?

The days are getting longer, daffodils bloomed, the tulips are up, warmer days; in a few weeks I’ll plant my herb garden, all of good with the world (if I avoid cable news); now our leaders in Albany have to hack through the weeds and thorns and create a path to a better world for our kids.

Chancellor Betty Rosa: A New Leadership Amidst Swirling Conflicts

A historic day in Albany – Betty Rosa was elected as Chancellor of the Board of Regents.

Dr. Rosa’s election was greeted with scathing editorials in the New York Post (“New Regents chancellor will be the latest sore for public schools“) and the New York Daily News (“Chancellor Rosa opts out“)  and  Carol Burris, in the Washington Post, chides her predecessor and predicts that Rosa will make dramatic positive changes in the direction of the board and actually lists ten changes she expects.

Betty is stepping off the diving board into a pool of both snapping alligators and adoring fans.

Dr. Rosa faces a range of hotly debated issues – issues that are beyond the powers of the chancellor: annual grades 3-8 tests are required by law, all English language learners with more than year in the country must be tested and almost all students with disabilities must be tested. The feds are currently writing regulations to clarify the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (Read process here) and while the new law does give states far more authority the feds have by no means disappeared (See a fed “Dear Colleague” clarification letter here). The feds will be inviting a handful of states to explore alternative assessments, and Dr. Rosa would love to be one of the states.

Over the last few months Regent Judith Johnson, on the board only since last April and a former superintendent has asked the same question of her colleagues and the commissioner: what is your theory of change? Or, to put more succinctly, why are we taking a specific action?  Have we explored the unintended consequences?

So far, nods of agreement, and little discussion.

Twenty-five years ago, after lengthy discussions the board voted to move to a single regents diploma and eliminate the 9th grade level  Regents Competency Exams and limit the local diploma to a  “safety net” for students with disabilities. The phase-in took years with many bumps in the road. A majority of students in New York State were graduating with a local diploma that did not prepare them for college or work. The board weathered outcries from school districts and parents, adjusted and lengthened the phase-in.

The board now seems to be chipping away at the regents diploma.

A dozen years ago the board changed the English Regents from a two-day, 3-hour a day exam to a one-day, 3-hour exam – passing rates increased by 20%. Were the students 20% “smarter” or was the 2-day exam a flawed exam?

The exam with the lowest passing rate – in the 60% range – the Global Studies Regents. A few years ago the regents reduced the scope of the exam from two years of work (9th and 10th grades) to the 10th grade only – to go into effect with the June, 2018 exam. (Take a crack at the January, 2016 Global Studies Regents exam here).

The commissioner and board never explored important questions: why were kids doing so poorly on the exam?  Is it the scope of the work?  The reading/writing skills required on the exam?  The basic structure of the exam?

On Monday, after lengthy and at time contentious discussion the K-12 committee passed two resolutions: first to consider the CDOS credential in lieu of one regents examination and second to increase the appeal procedure that generates re-scoring of a regents exam from grades of 62-64 to grades of 60-64.

A CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) credential is a career plan intended for students with disabilities,

The student must have successfully completed at least 216 hours of CTE coursework and/or work-based learning experiences (of which at least 54 hours must be in work-based learning experiences)

To expect that a school can use the CDOS credential as a replacement for the Global Studies Regents is overreaching.

The re-scoring resolution is based on an assumption: the original grading was inaccurate and the new grading, the re-scoring will result in a higher grade. From a statistical approach one would expect that of the inaccurate grades half would grant the students too many points and half too few. Why don’t we “rescore” all grades between 60 and 70?  We can increase and reduce scores if our goal is to have the most accurate scoring, or, is our goal only to increase scores?

Again, what is our “theory of change”?  Or, are the regents only interesting in increasing graduation rates?

What are the unintended consequences of the board actions?

Only 40% of our high school graduates are college and career ready (grades of 80 or above on the English Regents and 75 or above on the Algebra 1 Regents), meaning, the 60% who are not “college ready” must take non-credit remediation courses in college; even more disturbing: only 14% of Black students, 18% of Hispanic students, 6% of ELLs and 5% of students with disabilities graduate high school college ready. Staggering percentages of these students do not complete community college within six years and they leave with significant debt and without a college degree or certificate. (See “Completion Versus Readiness” power point here).

We can identify students in elementary school grades who are likely to either not graduate high school or barely graduate – are we targeting these specific students?

To once again quote Regent Johnson: what is our theory of change

Betty Rosa, aside from her service as a superintendent that included some of the poorest zip codes in the nation is a Harvard PhD and a deep thinker.  While the editorial boards have pilloried her and written her off before her term begins they are in for a surprise.  The core issues are not opt out versus opt ins, the issue is not untimed tests or the number of questions, the deeper question begins with a theory of change, how can the board, led by Betty, move to a system that graduates kids with the skills to enter the middle class?

With a board, half of whom have lived and breathed education for their entire professional lives and other board members who add other perspectives there is every chance that the regents can move beyond the dueling and petty bickering so admired by “if it bleeds it leads” journalism.

The board  has to choose a path, not determined by politics but determined by evidence.

I’m optimistic.