Tag Archives: Mike Petrilli

Do Suspensions Work? A Tool to Improve Student Behaviors and/or a Pipeline to Prison?

Once a month a thousand or so teacher unionists file into Shanker Hall at the United Federation of Teachers for the monthly Delegate Assembly, the elected delegates are incredibly diverse, by gender, race and ethnicity. After the president’s report the meeting moves to a question period, one delegate asked, “My principal asked me to raise an issue, a student came to school with a knife, the Department of Education would only allow a short in-school suspension because the knife was only 4” long, shouldn’t we be able to impose a longer out of school suspension? The kid has to learn a lesson?” The union president agreed, the Discipline Code , the size of a phone book, might be overly restrictive, and then asked, “Shouldn’t the question be why he brought the knife to school?”

On one side: “School is a pipeline to prison, suspensions are racist and must be eliminated,” on the other, “There must be consequences for inappropriate behavior and suspensions must be one of the options.”

The suspension question is complicated, and, the “sides” are deeply entrenched.

There are 14,000 school districts, fifty states and thousands of charter schools, all of whom have a discipline code, plus, the Department of Education (USDE).

Some school districts employ “exclusionary suspensions,” meaning out-of-school suspensions while others, including New York City, only have in-school suspensions.

Some districts employ “zero tolerance” policies, suspensions for low level behavioral infringements while others, including New York City, require a ladder of discipline culminating in a suspension and at the long-term level requiring a hearing with legal representation available.

The evidence that suspensions improve behavior is absent; the evidence that suspensions have negative outcomes is overwhelming.

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA has published reports with significant evidence challenging the efficacy of out of school suspensions, aka, exclusionary suspensions.

Especially relevant is “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?”

In January 2014 the Obama/Duncan Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, a method of avoiding the lengthy process to change regulations, warning and threatening school districts with legal actions,

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. 

 … statistical evidence may indicate that groups of students have been subjected to different treatment or that a school policy or practice may have an adverse discriminatory impact. Indeed, the Departments’ investigations, which consider quantitative data as part of a wide array of evidence, have revealed racial discrimination in the administration of student discipline. For example, in our investigations we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students. In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.

 This line of reasoning is called “disparate impact theory,” and has been primarily used in employment discrimination; Griggs v Duke Power Company (1970) is a unanimous Supreme Court decision barring the use of restrictive employment barriers.

One could argue that the Obama administration overextended its authority; suspensions are a state issue and fall beyond the authority of the federal government; however, I’m not arguing the role of the federal government; the data is overwhelming, students of color are suspended at rates far beyond other students, and, the consequences of suspensions are dire.

The Trump-deVos administration has withdrawn the Obama-Duncan “Dear Colleague” letter.

There is no evidence that suspensions work, that students who are suspended do not commit further “suspendable” offenses, or, that classrooms are more orderly after students are suspended.

Districts have moved to restorative justice  and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports strategies, (PBIS ) with mixed results .. In a major study in the Pittsburgh schools the results were both encouraging and depressing. In elementary suspensions decreased however the results in middle schools were disturbing.

 The policies appear especially unhelpful in middle school grades, where they didn’t reduce suspension rates but did hurt test scores. The shift did not boost student learning on the whole, and black students in particular actually saw significant reductions in test scores.

 In my own totally unscientific discussions with teachers the major complaint was time. Who is going to teach my class while I counsel the offending students, another, “They want to turn us into guidance counselors.”

System-wide professional development may, or, may not impact rates of suspension and academic outcomes; however, are there differences in comparable schools, schools with similar populations in similar neighborhoods, and if so, why?  Can it be the race of the teacher or school leader? A North Carolina study explored the race of the teacher,

Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?

 In this study …we find consistent evidence that North Carolina students are less likely to be removed from school as punishment when they and their teachers are the same race. This effect is driven almost entirely by black students, especially black boys, who are markedly less likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline when taught by black teachers. There is little evidence of any benefit for white students of being matched with white teachers.

 Other studies support the North Carolina study,

… we provide a theoretical model that formalizes the notion of “role model effects” as distinct from teacher effectiveness. We envision role model effects as information provision: black teachers provide a crucial signal that leads black students to update their beliefs about the returns to effort and what educational outcomes are possible. Using testable implications generated by the theory, we provide suggestive evidence that role model effects help to explain why black teachers increase the educational attainment of black students.

 While studies are interesting none are dispositive.

Mike Petrilli in an excellent article entitled, “Humility When It Comes to Evidence-Based Practice” emphasizes “teacher buy-in and implementation.”

… the contexts of our schools… vary dramatically making the use of evidence an inherently complex and fraught challenge. Plus, in a field where implementation is everything, the only way “doing what works” can be effective is with teacher buy-in and engagement. They call it “winning hearts and minds” for a reason; we can’t expect that evidence alone will win the day.

“Comparable schools” schools with low suspension rates, in my experience, are schools that have strong cultures and are highly collaborative: a strong school leader with distributive teacher leadership.

Bottom lines:

  • Exclusionary (out-of-school) suspensions and zero tolerance practices have the odor of blatant racism and must be rejected.
  • All suspensions must be in-school or in an educational setting coupled with intensive counseling and educational supports
  • Restorative justice and other alternative strategies can be useful if there is teacher buy-in and engagement
  • Hiring more male school leaders and teachers of color are essential.
  • There are student behaviors that require the removal from a classroom setting, we cannot totally reject suspensions.

If we want students to change behaviors we must explore our own behaviors. New York State has released Cultural Responseness and Sustainability Frameworks for public comment.

Will these Frameworks change your relationships with students? At least, make you explore your view of classroom practices?

The Assessment Wars: Is a Grassroots Revolution Bubbling Up Across the Nation Opposing Punitive Annual Testing?

The education community has been fighting the Reading Wars for decades, and, continues, unabated.

“Why Johnnie Can’t Read” became a national best seller in the 50’s and the battle simmered for decades. For some “whole language instruction” was a political attempt to capture the minds of our children, for others, namely, ED Hirsch, phonics was the path to effective reading instruction.  “Why Johnnie Can’t Read” even became a popular song.

 They’re back. Or maybe the “reading wars” never really went away. For decades, political skirmishes have raged between supporters of phonics instruction and proponents of language.

 Recently the skirmishes have boiled over into battles

The Assessment Wars are not far behind.

20% of parents in New York State have opted their children out of state tests, the  Long Island Opt Out Facebook page  has 25,000 members who are active in local politics, endorsing candidates and working in campaigns, they are a political force.

Is testing of children “new”?

We’re tested children for decades; in New York State children in the 4th and 8th grades were tested annually, additionally there were city and school district tests. The Regents Examinations, required for a diploma in New York State have been around for over 100 years

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the bipartisan law widely heralded in 2002 required testing of all children in grades 3-8 in ELA and Math, and, states had to establish Adequate Yearly Progress. The goal of the law was that by setting AYP goals states would incrementally more forward with all children being at grade level of 2014. The law seemed like NPR Garrison’s Keller’s mythical town of Lake Woebegone where all children are above average. If schools failed to meet goals, higher test scores, the law required interventions, i. e., schools closings, re-staffing, conversion to charter, and the punitive section of the law.

The successor law, the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues annual testing; the law does change the school measurement metric from proficiency to a combination of growth plus proficiency. Major civil rights organizations strongly supported annual testing. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights , an umbrella advocacy organization, that was led by Wade Henderson  insisted on continuing annual testing.

“I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League. States and school districts that don’t want to deal with the daunting task of improving the achievement of poor students complain about testing as a way of shirking accountability, Henderson said. “This is a political debate, and opponents will use cracks in the facade as a basis for driving a truck through it,” he said.

 In spite of efforts by unions and other advocates to test every third year and other compromises the law continued annual testing.

Has annual testing improved student outcomes?

The answer is a resounding “no.”

With a roll of drums the Obama administration rolled out the Common Core standards followed by Common Core based testing, the result: student scores declined, and, failed to recover.

The National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), called the nation’s report card, compares educational progress by state and large urban districts. Over the last few years New York State is moving in the wrong direction,; scores flat or actually regressing.

How do we assess student learning:  the collision of teaching and learning, that point at which the light bulb goes on, that magical moment in which a student “learns?”  Mike Petrilli at the Fordham Institution sees more research needed to uncover the “secret sauce.” For others the “solution” was the stick, use test scores to assess teacher effectiveness, use Value-Added Measurements, and reward and punish teachers. VAM has been trashed by leading statisticians; reformers ignored the criticism.

The reformers who led the VAM crusade ignored the “Cuban-Tyack Principle.”, unless teachers and parents embrace the innovation, the reform, it is doomed.

David Steiner challenges a basic premise, Common Core is not an “answer,” the answer should be curriculum; we should test what we actually teach.

Are there alternatives to the current testing regimen?

New Hampshire and a number of school districts are using performance tasks, Louisiana has an approved federal waiver to use periodic tests instead of end year testing, forty schools in New York State use portfolios in lieu of Regents Exams,

Can testing be useful?

Testing to inform teachers, to inform instruction is used every day, that Friday spelling tests, the math problems; Mike Schmoker in Focus  suggests multiple tests for understanding in every lesson.

Statewide testing has nothing to do with individual students, the purpose is to assess school/school district or state “progress,” or lack thereof. It is also used to shame and stigmatize, and, has created a growing opposition among parents.

The opt outs are now a national political movement. In the recent election teachers and parents played a major role. The “blue wave” included massive numbers of teachers, both in service and retired teachers; not only at the polls but in the trenches, ringing door bells, manning phone banks oft times side by side with active parents.

All politics is local, and, the revolt against testing is bubbling up across the nation. In New York State progressives rolled to victory first in the September democratic primary and in the November general election. While education has been on a political back burner the new crop of progressive electeds might very well be at the heart of a growing anti-testing revolt.

As Jefferson wrote 1787, “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

Reshuffling the Deck: Why Growth-Based Accountability School Metrics Are Fair to Schools, Teachers and the Public

If you overlaid poverty by zip code with school accountability metrics, no surprise, high poverty geographic areas closely match low performance on standardized tests, as well as rates of chronic absenteeism, numbers of suspensions, number of students in foster care or living in shelters, etc.,

If you overlaid education levels of parents with school accountability metrics, no surprise, levels of parent education closely align with student achievement.

Schools Watch, part of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School published an enlightening study, A Better Picture of Poverty.

‘New York City’s ‘truly disadvantaged’ public schools. urban schools serve students and their families who face the heaviest misery and hardship imposed by poverty and family dysfunction, and these are typically in neighborhoods most bereft of the reserves of community “social capital” that can offset poverty’s worst effects.

The study  devised a new metric that the Center called “risk load factors.”

“…18 school and community “risk load factors” that closely align with scores on Common Core tests … From teacher turnover to the number of students who are homeless, our analysis shows that the connection between chronic absenteeism and the characteristics of deep poverty are clear.”

“A 2013 study in Philadelphia concluded that homelessness, child maltreatment and a mother’s level of education were the strongest predictors of a child’s school achievement.”

In spite of the undisputed links of poverty to test results New York State uses a proficiency metric – a cut score, a proficiency grade, set by the state psychometrician, solely based on test scores.

High income, high tax, high parent education districts are overwhelmingly proficient while low income, low tax, low parent education level districts are overwhelmingly below proficient, or, to use the state term, are “approaching proficiency.”

As I described on a recent blog New York State, as part of the new ESSA law is crafting a new accountability metric, with wide discretion.

A core question emerged: should the state continue utilizing proficiency metrics or move to a growth metric. A growth metric utilizes growth regardless of proficiency.

Mike Petrilli is the President of the Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education think tank; however, you can’t place Petrilli in the “(de)reformer” camp; he is an independent thinker.

In his Flypaper blog  “Why states should use student growth, and not proficiency rates, when gauging school effectiveness,” Petrilli and his co-author, Aaron Churchill write,

Our goal with this post is to convince you that continuing to use status measures like proficiency rates to grade schools is misleading and irresponsible—so much so that the results from growth measures ought to count much more—three, five, maybe even nine times more—than proficiency when determining school performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Status measures are the metrics I refer to: geography, parent income and education, etc.

The authors make a cogent argument

The blog argues:

  1. In an era of high standards and tough tests, proficiency rates are correlated with student demographics and prior achievement. If schools are judged predominantly on these rates, almost every high-poverty school will be labeled a failure. That is not only inaccurate and unfair, but it will also demoralize educators and/or hurt the credibility of school accountability systems. In turn, states will be pressured to lower their proficiency standards.
  2. Growth measures—like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—are a much fairer way to evaluate schools, since they can control for prior achievement and can ascertain progress over the course of the school year. They can also differentiate between high-poverty schools where kids are making steady progress and those where they are not.
  3. In contrast with conventional wisdom, growth models don’t let too many poor-performing schools “off the hook.” Failure rates for high-poverty schools are still high when judged by “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—they just aren’t as ridiculously high as with proficiency rates.

:Petrilli and Churchill don’t shy away from their critics,

Probably the strongest argument against using growth models as the centerpiece of accountability systems is that they don’t expect “enough” growth, especially for poor kids and kids of color. The Education Trust, for example, is urging states to use caution in choosing “comparative” growth models, including growth percentiles and value-added measures, because whether students are making enough progress to hit the college-ready target by the end of high school, or whether low-performing subgroups are making fast enough gains to close achievement gaps. And that much is true. But let’s keep this in mind: Closing the achievement gap, or readying disadvantaged students for college, is not a one-year “fix.” It takes steady progress—and gains accumulated over time—for lower-achieving students to draw even with their peers….. An article by Harvard’s Tom Kane reports that the wildly successful Boston charter schools cut the black-white achievement gap by roughly one-fifth each year in reading and one-third in math. So even in the most extraordinary academic environments, disadvantaged students may need many years to draw even with their peers (and perhaps longer to meet a high college-ready bar). That is sobering indeed.

The article should be required reading for every policy-maker and the conclusion is dramatic:

Using proficiency rates to rate high-poverty schools is an unfair practice to schools that has real-world consequences. Not only does this policy give the false impression that practically all high-poverty schools are ineffective, but it also demeans educators in high-needs schools who are working hard to advance student learning. Plus, it actually weakens the accountability spotlight on the truly bad high-poverty schools, since they cannot be distinguished from the strong ones

Read the entire blog: https://edexcellence.net/articles/why-states-should-use-student-growth-and-not-proficiency-rates-when-gauging-school

The failure to acknowledge and learn from high growth schools is disturbing:  the Department assigned a principal to phase out a low performing school that shared most of the poverty “risk load factors.”  In the last two years the school growth scores were impressive, although far, far below proficient.  The school closed and the teachers scrambled to find jobs or end up in the ATR pool. No one seemed interested in what the school did in the last two years – why was the school making progress?  Among low proficiency schools there is a considerable difference in growth. Did the positive growth schools alter their structure; use Title 1 dollars differently, collaborate effectively,? what was the role of the school leader?:  bottom line – why didn’t the Department take a deep dive into the leadership and instructional practices in higher growth school regardless of overall proficiency rates?

There are also high proficiency, low growth schools; should we give them a pass? A friend toured a high proficiency high school and viewed mediocre instruction; He asked the principal why he wasn’t working to improve the instruction. The principal replied, “Why mess with success?”

The move from proficiency to growth is reshuffling the deck and will be discomforting too some schools; however, it will be fair to schools, teachers and the public.

Senator Flanagan versus President Obama: Will New York State Challenge Immediate High-Stake Testing for All?

In the corridors of Albany a Republican State Senator from Long Island, John Flanagan, is challenging President Obama – and the challenge has nothing to do with party politics. An increasingly intrusive federal government has pushed aside the 10th Amendment and is setting national policy for education at the local level.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment is referred to as the “reserve clause,” the catch-all amendment that “reserves” powers not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited to the states. Education is a classic example of a reserved power, states, traditionally, established school governance systems, set course and graduation requirements, funding formula, criteria for teacher licensure, education was a domain of the states.

Diane Ravitch in a blog post writes, “Who owns American public education? Until a decade ago, we might have answered: the public. Or the states. Or the local school boards. Now, the likely answer is: the U.S. Department of Education.”

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), for the first time, introduced a role for the federal government in education. Title I of ESEA provided dollars to states based upon a poverty formula in exchange for directing dollars to specific schools. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the reauthorization of ESEA, in 2002, dramatically changed the role of the feds, school districts that received federal funds, almost all school districts, were required to test all students in English/Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and students in high schools in English, Mathematics and Science and were required to take remedial action for “failing” schools, actions that included replacing staffs and/or principals, school closures and conversion to charter schools.

In 2011 the National Governors Association, using Gates funding, created “standards” in all grades; 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, now referred to as Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The plan envisioned two consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balance, would create tests to measure student competency based on the CCSS in grades 3-11, tests that were national in scope, all the states in each consortium would take the same tests. States would no longer control the content and structure of federally required tests.

The Race to the Top (RttT) dangled billions of federal dollars to states in exchange for significant commitments – adopting the Common Core standards and student testing based on the CCSS, student test score-based (VAM) teacher evaluations and a data warehouse to store student information.

The powers guaranteed by the 10th Amendment have been significantly eroded by the federal government. The Supreme Court has vacillated on the question of the powers of the federal government and education conservatives, Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli are uncomfortable with the intrusive role of the feds,

The federal government has pushed far too deeply into the routines and operations of the nation’s public schools, now regulating everything from teacher credentials to the selection of reading programs.

New York State has enthusiastically adopted the federal agenda – a recipient of 700 million in RttT funds, and the full federal agenda typified by the rapid adoption of the CCSS and concomitant testing.

In August, 2013 the first set of CCSS state test scores were released – 2/3 of the students in the state failed the tests and Afro-American, Hispanic, English language learners and Special Education students had appallingly low scores.

• 31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• 5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

As parent anger grew the commissioner pushed back and defended the full adoption of CCSS and the full implementation of CCSS testing. At meeting after meeting, forum after forum the public pushed and the commissioner defended.

On January 7th the leader of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who rarely comments on any pending issue announced,

“I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core,” Silver said. “The problem with it is … No. 1, it was suddenly put upon teachers and students and administrators and schools. The support for it was not forthcoming as quickly as the rigors of Common Core, and the training wasn’t there for a lot of the teachers that are charged with using it as the basis for their education.”

Throughout the fall Senator Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee held hearing around the state and introduced a number of bills to limit and safeguard the data warehouse, and, announced he was considering the introduction of legislation to slow down the implementation of the CCSS testing.

On January 24th the NYS Senate Education Committee engaged with Commissioner King for almost two hours. Senator after senator asked the commissioner to press the “delay” or the “pause” button and the commissioner, politely and firmly explained that while the state education department could have done things differently, and agreed the implementation was uneven and parent engagement was lacking the feds required annual testing and the only tests were the CCSS tests.

Watch from minute 1:42 until the end (thirteen minutes) for comments from Senator Flanagan and the Commissioner’s reply (See U-Tube here). Well worth watching – Senator Flanagan firmly asked for a plan and the commissioner just as firmly evaded.

A Regents Task Force is scheduled to report at the February 10th Regents meeting – the senator announced he was expecting a “tangible” plan to respond to the criticisms from across the state.

Although thoroughly professional Senator Flanagan made it clear the Senate Education Committee would take actions if they were not satisfied with the report of the Regents Task Force, and the unspoken threat is a bill requiring a delay.

The commissioner has consistently averred that a delay in implementation was out of the question – he argues federal law requires annual testing. Senator Flanagan made it clear – this is New York State – we are the leader – an implicit argument that the feds don’t want to pick a fight with the Empire State.

The actions of the Senate Education Committee may be the beginning of challenges around the nation. Can the federal government require education policies that parents and their legislators think are inappropriate? Will the Regents and the commissioner directly challenge Senator Flanagan’s “advice”? Usually, both sides come to an “understanding” that pushes aside any confrontation; however, the tide of anger on the part of parents around the state requires “tangible” action – anything short of a delay will be rejected by parents.

Senator Flanagan and his colleagues are demanding that the Common Core be de-linked from immediate high-stakes testing for all.

I do not think legislators will risk losing their offices over the issue of Common Core testing; rather challenge the federal law than risk the ire of voters at the polls.

Our founding fathers (and mothers, let’s not forget Abigail Adams and Sally Hemmings) were both creative and deep thinkers. The advice of Thomas Jefferson is especially prescient,

Should [reformers] attempt more than the established habits of the people are ripe for, they may lose all and retard indefinitely the ultimate object of their aim.” –Thomas Jefferson to Mme de Tesse,

I think it would be better to wind up [the settlement of a new constitution] as quickly as possible, to consider it as a mere experiment to be amended hereafter when time and trial shall show where it is imperfect.” –Thomas Jefferson to Comte de Moustier

Are We Moving to a New Accountability System? Has the “New” Administration Already Begun?

The Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations have been masterful at “controlling the message,” commissioners and deputy mayors rarely stand on a podium, except alongside the mayor. Can you name any commissioners or deputy mayors except for Police Commissioner Kelly or Chancellor Walcott?

Any request to a principal or a department staffer are shunted to the communication folk, any Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) slowly, very slowly perks through the system for months, sometimes a year or more.

It is fascinating that a high ranking official, the # 2 in the Department of Education would post on a widely read blog.

Shael Suransky, is the Chief Academic Officer, runs the day-to-day operation at the department within the confines of the core beliefs of his thrice removed boss, Joel Klein.

The Flypaper blog is part of the Fordham Institute, a right- of-center education policy think tank. Mike Petrilli hosts the blog, exchanges with Debbie Meier on the Education Week “Bridging Differences” blog, Andy Smerick and Kathleen Porter-Macgee on urban school systems and last week Shael Suransky writing on “Next Steps on Accountability.”

After summarizing the current accountability system, characterized by the A – F grading system which results in the closing of schools – creating “winners” and “loser” primarily based on zip code Suransky outlines a pilot accountability project,

I believe it is possible to further strengthen our system by continuing to build on our core principles while addressing the aforementioned challenges. That’s why we are launching a pilot program this school year with a few of our top-performing school support networks and at least one charter-management organization. Similar to the ideas that Mike Petrilli outlined last spring, the pilot is designed to create flexibility for networks to introduce new measures based on their schools’ shared instructional goals that more accurately represent schools’ contributions to student learning and development. These measures will be based on research we’ve been doing over the past year in the following areas:

• Measures of the quality of student classwork (e.g., research papers, extended essays, art, and science projects);

• Measures that are based on other student outcomes, including student course outcomes, especially at the elementary and middle school level;

• Measures that quantify elements of our school Quality Reviews (e.g., the quality of classroom instruction, student engagement, supports for teachers and families); and

• Measures of student academic behaviors and mindsets that are associated with college and career readiness (e.g., persistence, ability to work in teams, effective communication, and organizational skills).

As is our common practice, we’ll test the ideas that emerge through this pilot to see if they should be applied more broadly. At the end of the day, this conversation on accountability is about how well our schools are supporting student learning and—most importantly—understanding how we can help them to do this even better. Similar to the evolution of state standards and assessments, our accountability system needs to grow and evolve as we grapple with the instructional shifts required by the Common Core.

Remember the Autonomy Zone (AZ)? After the department abandoned Regions and moved to Learning Support Organization they created a group of 25 schools in the first year, doubling the second year. The schools had wide latitude in the delivery of instruction. I attended a few AZ professional development sessions run by classroom teachers on topics selected by classroom teachers. Unfortunately the department moved to Children First 3,0, Empowerment, and Children First 4.0, Networks.

Currently 85% of the School Progress Grade in elementary and middle schools are based on growth and performance on state standardized test scores. (See detailed explanation of Progress Report metrics here). The scores in each category are numerical; the schools receive an overall numerical score which the department converts into a letter grade. Typically schools in higher wealth districts (for example District 25/26 in Queens) receive scores of “A” and “B” while schools in high poverty districts (for example District 19/23 in Brooklyn) receive grades of “C,” “D,” and “F.”

Schools that have closed are commonly located in high poverty neighborhoods.

The pilot will begin to explore the behaviors that Paul Tough writes about in “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (2012)” (Review here) and Nobel Prize winner James Heckman examines in detail (Read the Heckman Equation here), i.e., persistence, ability to work in teams, effective communication, and organizational skills.

How the department create these “measures’ is crucial. Up to now “accountability” means results: grades on standardized tests, credit accumulation and regents exam scores. It would appear that the department is moving toward “measuring,” whatever that means, what goes on in the classroom, focusing on actual instruction as well as the non-cognitive outcomes of instruction.

I would hope that the department partners with a research institution; too often in the past every new initiative was “doomed to success,” regardless of the data produced. As an example: rising graduation rates were hailed, and critics assailed the results due to unregulated credit recovery and teachers marking their own student Regents papers, with the most common grade: 65, the minimum passing grade. Both practices have been curtailed. The rising graduation rates, rightly or wrongly, are looked upon with suspicion.

Why would a major new initiative be rolled out on a think tank blog?

Is the department signaling that with the clock ticking on the life span of the Bloomberg/Klein regency they are beginning to nibble away at the “core beliefs”?

Or, maybe the current guys have made a deal with the soon to be new guys to move in a new direction?

Or, as Sigmund Freud may have said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”