Tag Archives: Randi Weingarten

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

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

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

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

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

A narrow window, incredible leaders.

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

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

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

A narrow window, leadership failed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words a window is open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windows open, and close.

New York State Selects a Controversial Commissioner: Let’s Give Her (That’s Right – Her) A Chance!!

The New York State Board of Regents selected Mary Ellen Elia, the recently fired superintendent of the Hillsborough Country Florida School District (Tampa), the New York State Commissioner of Education.

Elia, who began her career as a Social Studies teacher Buffalo in 1970 has been the superintendent in Hillsborough since 2005, and, has been acclaimed nationally.

Jay Mathews, in the Washington Post, is appalled by her dismissal, and called it “senseless and catastrophic,” and continued,

Since her appointment in 2005, she has built a national reputation as a warm, smart leader who has produced some of the most academically challenging schools in the country and has found ways to raise achievement even for low-income children. She is highly praised as a manager, even though she had never served before as a superintendent and — unlike any other leader of a big district I know — had previously spent 19 years as a classroom and reading teacher.

With union leaders, she worked out a teacher compensation plan that allowed exceptional new hires to climb the salary ladder fast. Teachers union president Jean Clements called it “reliable, valid, fair and easy to understand.”

Her opponents called her dictatorial and oblivious to the needs of parents, and, some teachers were happy to see her leave.

As soon as her appointment as NYS Commissioner was announced the twittersphere and the blognet were abuzz – Bill Gates whispered into Merryl Tisch’s ear, she snapped her fingers and the other sixteen Regents fell in line.

The special meeting of the Regents was a four-hour marathon, with a two hour interview of Elia. The new Board of Regents includes six former superintendents, four newly elected members, two of whom bumped the two most senior members. The current Regents are fiercely independent. The Regents dueled with acting commissioner Wagner, no shrinking violets! No one will controls the current Board.

Let’s be honest – Mary Ellen Elia brings baggage.

Hillsborough, her school district is the eighth largest school district in the nation – over 200,000 students and 25,000 staffers. In 2008 she received the largest Gates Foundation grant – 104 million dollars – to implement the Empowering Excellent Teachers project. The grant application required negotiating with the union; most of the dollars went to increasing teacher salaries, and required: a teacher evaluation system which included 40% use of student growth scores, and principal and peer assessments, a pay-for-performance plan (See on pages 91-92 of Teacher Contract here and a salary fast-track for younger teachers, Read about the grant from the union perspective here and a union “myth-busting” article here)

The new Commish immediately visited a local school, spoke with the media and met with legislative leaders – see interview here: And, attempted to “roll back the past,”

[Elia] indicated that she thought less of the decision to simultaneously align New York’s standardized tests to the Common Core standards and start evaluating teachers using test results, though.
“Some of this across the nation, in specific places, was done very quickly without the implementation explained and without enough time,” Elia said. “I would suggest that sometimes in haste we haven’t taken the time for people to understand and to become part of the change that needs to occur.”

Commissioner Elia should be judged by her actions.

Some suggestions:

* Get Out of Albany: Attend as many teacher meetings as possible and engage in a TV interview with NYSUT president Karen Magee, attend the UFT Delegate Meeting, meetings with Opt Out parents, become a social media presence.

* Get Teacher Evaluation Resolved: The battle over the Governor-imposed teacher evaluation plan is “eating up all the air,” start the plan with lower growth scores metrics, agree that the plan will be driven by research-based data, review the metrics annually, and alleviate the fear and suspicion among teachers.

* Review the Common Core: Educators from across the nation and the state are critical of elements of the Common Core, especially the earlier grade standards. Establish a task force: scholars, teachers and parents, to review CCLS and recommend, if necessary, changes.

* Let’s Move Beyond the Testing Morass: The current Common Core aligned Pearson test have no credibility. Students have low test score grades because former commissioner King decided to structure the system to produce lower grades – a decision that led to his demise as commissioner. Are there better tests? Can we begin to explore adaptive testing? Is the use of portfolios for specific categories of student feasible? And, yes, we should totally reject the PARCC consortium.

* English Language Learners: The number of ELL students entering New York State schools has increased dramatically, and, the State responded by adding compliance regs. Increasing the minutes of required instruction or the number of bilingual teachers, neither action is the answer. Schools districts will look for loopholes, very little will change. What is the State doing to impact instruction of ELL’s in classrooms? A politically explosive arena: do school districts cut Advanced Placement classes to add bilingual classes? Why are some schools with high percentages of ELL’s doing so much better than others?

^ The Teacher Education Troubles: All college teacher education programs must be approved by the State, and, there are hundreds of programs. Nation-wide students in teacher education program come from the bottom half of college applicants. How can we attract better candidates? How can we retain teachers in the profession? Should we hold teacher education programs accountable for the success of their students? And, if so, how?
Are the current tests: edTPA. ALAST, EAS and Content exams, which cost the students about $1,000, a reliable predictor of success? Are the exams themselves valid?

* The Elephant in the Room: The high poverty, low achieving schools and school districts. Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and, probably another hundred of so cities across the nation share high levels of poverty and low student academic achievement. New York State has stumbled badly, the $700 million in Race to the Top dollars are gone, and, what do we have to show? Staining schools with brands of failure, “out of time,” “priority” or whatever stain is meaningless, inner city charter schools struggle mightily, and, the governor’s “receivership” legislation is re-packaging of failed ideas. Can the state actually adopt policies that actually improve teaching and learning in our poorest schools?

* The Charter School Kerfuffle: State Ed just denied the application of a host of charter schools; they didn’t come up to standards. (why now?), SED has routinely extended charters of low-achieving charter schools. Charter schools commonly accept fewer students with disabilities, English language learners and dump out low achievers and discipline problems. There are at least 2500 empty seats in New York City charter schools. The issue is called “back-fill,” kids are dumped and not replaced to inflate data. The large Charter Management Organizations actively seek philanthropy; the many, many “mom and pop” charter schools struggle to meet payrolls. Will Elia hold charters to higher standards? Will she close down failed charter schools?

For decades commissioners were drawn from the ranks of superintendents across the state. When Regent Tisch became chancellor the Board chose David Steiner, who was not a K-12 educator, he was the dean of a college of education; John King had lots of degrees and little experience, and, now, a very high profile choice from Florida. Aren’t there an qualified suprintendents in New York State?

Understand: teachers, principals and superintendents don’t work for the commissioner; they work for elected school boards. While the commissioner and the Board set policy, they do not have the ability to actually intervene locally. In East Ramapo the school board was captured by the religious school leaders, and, they directed funds to the religious schools, they actively closed public schools and sold the buildings to religious schools, interpreted the rules to drive special education dollars to religious schools, laid off public school staffs and dramatically raised class size. The State Ed lawyer: to the commish: you have no authority to intervene.

Constitutionally the Board of Regents sets policy and the commissioner carried out the policies for the last few years; recently the governor has set the policy, and for the King years the commissioner successfully bypassed most of the Board members.

We are entering a new era with a new commissioner, a simple message: give the lady a chance.

New York State is a far cry from Florida.

How about Chancellor Tisch arrange for John Merrow to interview Commissioner Elia, Diane Ravitch and AFT President Randi Weingarten, maybe at JCC Manhattan, and, invite the Opt-Out organizations, the School-to -Prison Pipeline folks and the Immigrant Coalition to pose questions, and, arrange for CSPAN to telecast.

Mary Ellen Elia decided to jump out of the Florida frying pan into the New York State fire – let’s both give her a chance and hold her feet to the fire.

John King on the Way to DC: A Time to Reconsider and Rethink the Path to More Effective Teaching and Learning

Commissioner John King will be leaving his position and moving to a top level position at the US Department of Education in Washington DC.

The NY Daily News quotes both Chancellor Tisch, in her praise of the Commissioner,

“John King has been a remarkable leader in a time of true reform,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. “He spent every moment working to open the doors of opportunity for all our students – regardless of their race, or zip code, or their immigration status.

“John has transformed teaching and learning, raising the bar for students and helping them clear that bar. In classrooms all across the state, teachers and students are rising to the challenge of higher standards. The positive impact of John King’s work in New York will be felt for generations. We’ll miss his wisdom, his calm leadership and his remarkable courage. But New York’s loss is the country’s gain. He’ll be a powerful force for educational opportunity in Washington.”

As well as the state teacher union, who was sharply at odds with the Commissioner on a wide range of issues.

“The disconnect between the commissioner’s vision and what parents, educators and students want for their public education system became so great, NYSUT voted ‘no confidence’ in Commissioner King last spring and called for his resignation,” the union said in a statement. “We hope he has learned from his stormy tenure in New York state and look forward to working collaboratively and productively with the Regents to improve public education going forward.”

If you are reader of these pages you know that I have been a frequent critic of the commissioner, not his goals, I have been critical of the path, and the lack of dialogue and transparency.

Unfortunately on too many occasions the opposition to the Commissioner has become ugly. The behavior at some of the open parent meetings last fall was disgraceful. I wonder if the Commissioner was “older and whiter” the reaction would have been the same?

My wife, an Afro-American woman from a single parent household won the Westchester Vassar Club scholarship; at her public high school she took four years of Latin and was considering a career in classical music; when she tried to sign up for a German class at Vassar she was told Afro-Americans were genetically incapable of learning German,

A generation later at an elite Northeastern college my son was told he only got into college because he was an athlete, after all a black male couldn’t get into otherwise (PS: Division 3 schools don’t offer athletic scholarships).

I’ve seen brilliant women treated in a demeaning manner by older men.

In spite decades of progress, race, gender and class are the subtext of every conversation, and the lack of civility, especially on the Internet is disturbing.

One of the most complex and difficult tasks is personal and organizational change – a basic change principle is that people view change as punishment. The Commissioner plunged headlong into a sea change: the Common Core Standards, the Common Core tests, teacher evaluation, the new college pre-service exams (edTPA) all require enormous changes, and, without adequate preparation.

Reformers, like the Commissioner, are aficionados of disruptive change theory, the theory espoused by Clayton Christensen
,

… disruptive innovation circumvents the political battles that have historically been at the center stage of education reform. Existing policies tend to favor the incumbent system, and hence changing those policies requires battling with those incumbents in the political arena. In contrast, disruptive innovations take root in areas outside the domain of the incumbents. Instead of challenging the status quo head-on, disruptive innovations take root and grow outside the purview of the incumbent system. They then improve independently over time until they begin to organically draw people away from the status quo. At that point, policies shift naturally to accommodate the highly-sought-after disruptive technology.

Charter schools are at the core of disruptive education theory, as well as moving ahead as quickly as possible before the “incumbents” can organize and fight the innovations.

In my view the Commissioner chose the wrong path, search and destroy is not the path that I believe leads to better outcomes for children. It ignores a reality, disruptive policies evoke resistance, at some point the change agent, the disrupter is sacrificed.

Phasing in the Common Core over a number of years, holding principals and teachers “save harmless,” until they feel comfortable with the new processes; the difficult work of working with parents, teachers and principals, working to achieve buy in brings change that is embraced by stakeholders. Transparency in the policy-building phase, a wide variety of contradictory voices is healthy noise; building a core of believers embeds change.

I don’t know whether the earlier grades of the Common Core is “developmentally inappropriate,” I’m not a math expert; however, bringing younger and older math experts into a room and facilitating a discussion leads to outcomes that are widely accepted in classrooms. Sitting around a teacher’s room and bitching and complaining are corrosive, and that is exactly what the current policies have achieved.

The disrupters created a movement, not a movement to facilitate change, a movement to defend the objects of the changes; for many it was a movement to defend the status quo, whether the status quo was a positive or a negative.

Teachers working collaboratively in a facilitated setting promotes new ideas, new protocols, and excites teachers. I watched English teachers in a school meet together once a week, they debated, discussed, they created a “drop box” with lesson plans and rubrics and, as English teachers love to do, worked together to decide on the readings. They had absolutely no problem was the Common core because they owned their practice.

I wish the commissioner well in his new endeavors and suggest, now that he’s in Washington, breakfast with Randi Weingarten once a week.

Can the IBM Watson Computer Whisper to Teachers? Can We All Have Our Personal Mentor-Advisor? Can We Trust IBM?

You may remember in early 2011 the IBM Watson computer took on former Jeopardy champions and defeated them – a stunning example of a “learning” computer, called “cognitive computing.”

The Roosevelt House at Hunter College hosted the rollout of a new use for Watson, a “teacher advisor.”

Every edition of Education Week is filled with computer applications for students, the Los Angeles School District is spending a billion dollars to buy I-Pads for every kid, schools commonly spend thousands to equip schools with white boards, school boards envision computers replacing teachers, During the credit recovery craze kids who failed classes made them up by sitting at a computer for a few hours answering questions.

Would real, live teachers be replaced by humming, flashing computers?

When I casually suggested that someday soon they’d be stapling a chip into your earlobe a friend, with a sneer, commented, “They haven’t done you yet?”

The still unnamed Watson system, maybe “teacher personal advisor,” is not meant to replace teachers but, according to IBM, to empower teachers, to use the power of Watson to advise and mentor a teacher.

Stan Litow, a former Board of Education Deputy Chancellor, and now with the impressive title of Vice President, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, and President, IBM International Foundation explained the concept.

Watson is a non-judgmental, on-demand, cloud-based, trusted advisor with the ability to provide vetted lessons, specific to the teacher and his/her students, way beyond a search engine. The Watson system is an “open domain Q & A,” Each time a teacher asks a question Watson learns and customizes the response to the teacher, a type of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

As I understood the presentation Watson is both free, available 24/7 and the teacher is anonymous. Schools and school districts will not have to purchase the system, teachers simply log on and begin to use.

The first panel: Michael Cohen, the President of Achieve, Inc., Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, John King, the NYS Commissioner of Education, James Shelton, Deputy Secretary of Educating and Randi Weingarten, AFT President.

Weingarten called the program, potentially, a Siri for teachers, reminded us that Google Maps is far from perfect and explained the success of Share My Lesson, an AFT-sponsored site on which a few hundred thousand teachers have signed up. The other panelists were impressed by the “personalization” of the process, the ability to curate and continue to learn, one goal is to establish communities of teachers who can mentor each other online. John King saw Watson as enabling teachers to speed up the searching process, responding to student errors, offering a range of teaching strategies and translate into student native languages. Michael Cohen reminded us that teachers, not Watson, are the experts.

A teacher panel from New York City, Half Hollow Hills, Newburgh and Plainsboro, New Jersey spent time over the summer with the design team.

Every teacher expressed concerns over new teacher evaluation systems and voiced uneasiness over the use of the Watson data – Litow, again and again emphasized that the system was non-judgmental and was not intended to assess or evaluate teachers in any way, the sole purpose was to assist teacher in planning, to offer a “personal assistant,” guided by the needs of the teacher.

In one of the demonstrations Watson was asked, “What is cloze reading instruction?” and, Watson answered by giving a long quote from David Coleman and made references to PARCC. In the Q & A audience members were sharply critical of the answer, and, emphasized that teacher suspicion would only be exacerbated by these types of responses.

Many of the questions danced around: how do you ameliorate suspicions of any computer-based program? How do you deal with the privacy issues? How do you respond to the presumption that there must be an ulterior motive? After all, IBM is in the business of making money.

The Watson team is setting up their offices in New York City and the actual rollout of the product is probably two years away.

As one questioner pointed out Watson suggestions were not answers – watching a video of a lesson, trying a suggested approach, all fine, there is no guarantee of success; Watson is simply one tool in the tool kit of a teacher. It did not strike me as a “game-changer,” the net is filled with tools, teachers have their favorites. Watson may speed up lesson planning; the “proof” is in the lesson execution.

I suggested to Stan Litow that he speak with Diane Ravitch, and he said he was eager to speak with Diane.

Many of us are ultra-suspicious of the tech companies who see billions of dollars waiting to be snatched away, the lure of a computer standing in front of a classroom, a computer that doesn’t need a pension and a health plan and doesn’t belong to a union, is an attraction to school boards. On the other hand we can’t be Luddites; the world of computing can make us more effective teachers and students more effective learners.

Interactive whiteboards cost a couple of thousand dollars each and I see teachers using them as high priced projectors, is a classroom filled with kids tapping on an I-Pad the type of “teaching and learning” we want to encourage?

I peeked into a classroom in a middle school, it was pretty loud, the kids were arguing with each other and the teacher was facilitating the argument/discussions, the teacher threw up his hands, “Okay, I’ve heard enough, you have fifteen minutes, write down your arguments, remember, each point must be backed up with evidence.”

Watson may have suggested the lesson, provided the sources and kids can use Google to search the web – are we also teaching the kids to write?

What do you think?

New NEA President Lily Garcia Meets Morning Joe and Fails the Test

Lily Garcia is the vivacious new president of the 3 million member National Education Association (NEA), the largest teacher union in the nation. The NEA has struggled since they torpedoed a merger agreement with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in 2000, in spite of the support of the NEA president the state federations sunk the plan, and, the NEA has drifted from leader to leader without much of a national presence. These days when you think of a national teacher union leader the only name is Randi Weingarten.

Lily, since her early July election has hit the ground running. She is the first NEA president to address the AFT convention and she very publicly chastised Arne Duncan, especially in regard to his “dumb ideas,” comments which undoubtedly play well with her membership.

Lily was a guest on MSNBC Morning Joe, a network with a left leaning viewership, the perfect audience for Lily. One of the troubling problems is that some of the strongest opponents of teacher tenure and opponents of teacher unions are within the MSNBC audience – left leaning democrats.

Unfortunately, in my view, Lily failed the test.

Watch Lily’s five minutes on Morning Joe: http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/nea-president–end-factory-school-reform-333357123798

The program, as they frequently do, put on the screen a particularly harsh comment from Lily referring to Duncan’s “dumb ideas” and his strong support for high stakes testing of students. One of the program hosts, referring to the international PISA scores complained that as a nation we are doing poorly compared to other nations, and, wasn’t Lily’s objection to testing simply a copout?

Lily’s answer: Instead of testing we should use the number the of Afro-American and Hispanic students who take Advanced Placement courses … and it went downhill … too bad.

How Lily, in view, should have answered:

“Let’s look at data from the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). On the children poverty scale the US places 27th out of the 30 nations that reported data ….we’re better than Mexico and Turkey

childhood poverty: http://www.oecd.org/social/family/43570328.pdf

Denmark 2.7%
Sweden 4.0
Finland 4.2
OECD 12.4
US 20.6

When we compare ourselves with other OECD nations on four year olds who are in school we’re in the lower third.

We have more teenage births than every country except Mexico.

We’re third from the bottom in childhood immunization rates.

We have the second highest family income among OECD nations.

According to the UNICEF measures of child well-being the US scores next to last, just ahead of the United Kingdom.

Of course if we subtract out the 20.6% of children in poverty and compare ourselves to similar children across the OECD we do fine.

These data do not absolve Duncan from “dumb ideas,” did you know that Duncan requires that 99% of children with disabilities must take the annual state tests even though their handicap prevents them from passing the test? Millions of students forced to take and fail tests … clearly a dumb idea.

Did you know that immigrant children must take the annual states tests after they are in the country for one year? Students with only one year of education in the US must compete with all other children … another clearly dumb idea.

Why do we need to test every student every year? The National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) progress uses sampling and is not offered every year. The only reason is to enrich test creation companies and, perhaps, to use the data to assess teacher performance, the problem: kids change year to year and the year to year results for teachers varies wildly, from 20 -40%…

Arne’s requirement for annual testing is another dumb idea.

Our kids, schools and teachers, considering the burdens placed on our children and families are doing surprisingly well … it’s our nation that’s in trouble.”

Lily and Randi Weingarten are good friends; Randi’s partner officiated at Lily’s recent wedding. If Lily gets up to speed Lily and Randi may turn Arne Duncan’s “dumb ideas” into meaningful and effective policy for families, schools and teachers.

“Tenure Protects Bad Teachers” and Branding: The Fight for the Hearts and Minds of the Public

We never order a gelatin dessert, we order Jell-O, we don’t ask for a petroleum gel, we buy Vaseline, the advertising gurus successfully brand products. A political application: only dyed in the wool democrats refer to the Affordable Care Act, we call the law Obamacare, branding a law by tying it to an increasingly unpopular president is an effective strategy.

The branding of a product is the embedding of a “sticky idea.”

According to Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die there are six principles that help you craft a sticky message:

Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories

By Simplicity the Heath’s mean, keep it simple and profound.

“We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission — sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that the individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.”

Tap into emotions to convey your point. We’re wired to feel things for people, not abstractions:

“How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something … Research that we are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.”

Tell stories to get people to act on your ideas:

“How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. … Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps up perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

“Tenure protects bad teachers” has been embedded in the minds of the public, it is a sticky idea. The Silicon Valley billionaire and the judge hearing the case are victims of a successful campaign, they have allowed an idea, a deeply flawed idea, to enter and embed in their subconscious.

Diane Ravitch, in her inimitable fashion, tells us that the data that the judge relied upon is fatally flawed, Jesse Rothstein, in a NY Times op ed (“Taking on Teacher Tenure Backfires” writes,

… Eliminating tenure will do little to address the real barriers to effective teaching in impoverished schools, and may even make them worse.

The lack of effective teachers in impoverished schools contributes to [the achievement] gap, but tenure isn’t the cause. Teaching in those schools is a hard job, and many teachers prefer (slightly) easier jobs in less troubled settings. That leads to high turnover and difficulty in filling positions. Left with a dwindling pool of teachers, principals are unlikely to dismiss them, whether they have tenure or not.

A NY Times editorial (“A New Battle for Equal Education”) supports the decision, and, sort of begrudgingly, supports “reasonable due process rights for teachers,”

Teachers deserve reasonable due process rights and job protections. But the unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the public the West Coast teacher unions and the New York teachers unions took vastly different approaches. The California Teachers Association has battled for years to prevent any changes in tenure laws – the California law grants tenure after serving an 18 month probationary period and the procedures for removing tenured teachers are complex and the process lengthy, it can take years. The result: almost every teacher achieves tenure and the dismissal of a tenured teacher is exceedingly rare. The attrition rates, especially in the schools teaching the poorest kids are high – half of new teachers leave voluntarily within five years.

The image of kids failing in high poverty schools and the California tenure laws allowed the “messagers,” the framers of public opinion to embed the sticky idea, “tenure protects bad teachers.”

The New York City teacher union has been led by Randi Weingarten, currently the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and now by Michael Mulgrew.

The AFT has taken a different approach which Weingarten calls “solution-driven unionism,”

Solution-driven unionism is rooted in solving problems, not winning arguments. AFT affiliates are pursuing this approach, and we are encouraging many more to follow suit. We know that this tough climate — marked by increasing poverty, continuing budget cuts, and a recession-fueled resurgence in attacks on unions and public services — can’t stop us from having a proactive quality education agenda. To the contrary — while we will continue to fight for the resources children need, we must also devise innovative, creative and new approaches to help all children succeed.

The UFT has worked diligently with a wide range of citywide and community-based organizations, from the NAACP to parent groups across the city. This type of coalition-building embeds “sticky ideas,” A Zogby Analytics poll,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

In 2009 the NYC Department of Education changed the administrative procedures for the granting of tenure. After a three year probationary period the vast percentage of teachers received tenure, the Department changed the process – principals received data sets linking pupil performance to each teacher, teachers were required to submit “artifacts,” examples of student work as well as a review of supervisory observations.

Rather than a major public battle the union provided workshops across the city, every probationary teacher had the opportunity to meet with a union expert to assist in creating their portfolio and well as how to respond in meetings with their principals. While the number of teachers with extended probationary periods increased significantly the percentage of teachers who were denied tenure only increased by one percent.

A just-released study finds, (

“The receipt of tenure had become an expectation for nearly all teachers.’Tenure was rarely based on strong evidence of accomplishment.’

.. the percent of teachers granted tenure dropped from more than 90 percent to less than 60 percent while a substantially greater share of teachers had their tenure period extended. While denial of tenure increased from two percent in 2008 to just three percent in 2012, teachers whose probationary period was extended rose from less than 5 percent to over 40 percent of teachers. Extended teachers were given an additional year to demonstrate effective teaching consistent with the Effectiveness Framework.

Despite not altering the proportion of teachers denied tenure, the tenure reform meaningfully affected the composition of teachers. Researchers found that teachers who were extended were more than 50 percent more likely to transfer to another school within the district or to exit teaching in the district than otherwise similar teachers who were granted tenure. The authors compared the effectiveness of extended teachers who transferred or exited to all teachers entering these schools to assess whether the quality of teachers improves as a result of the policy.

“The extended teachers who leave their schools were less effective than the teachers likely to replace them” said Susanna Loeb, professor of education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, a coauthor. “Likely replacement teachers are much more likely to be rated Effective or Highly Effective than the extended teachers who leave.

The New York State Teacher Union (NYSUT) fully participated in the creation of a teacher evaluation law – moving from a system solely based on principal assessment at the school level to a multiple measures system that involves measuring all teachers against similarly situated teachers across the state. The exceedingly dense system, in the first year, only found 1% of teachers ineffective.

In New York City the union negotiated changes in the teacher disciplinary procedures to expedite the process.

The recent teacher contract received a “thumbs up” from the editorial board of the NY Times,

There was no snarling at City Hall when Mayor Bill de Blasio and the teachers’ union announced a very significant labor agreement on Thursday Dispensing with the unproductive tension that tarnished the Bloomberg administration, the two sides showed that real progress can be made — on both the fiscal and the educational sides of the contract — when there is good will instead of disdain. On the whole, the agreement represents a good deal for the city and its students.

Even the Citizens’ Budget Commission, the self-proclaimed guardian of the City coffers gave the contract a qualified approval.

The tentative agreement between the city and the teachers union resolves major uncertainty surrounding the city’s financial plan and ensures some stability in labor relations with a major segment of the city workforce for the next five years.

It establishes a reasonable pattern for other city workers, but its affordability rests on ensuring concrete savings from health care costs.

Union leadership cannot be guided by the anger of members, in California teacher anger over attempts to modify tenure rules was popular, and a losing position. “Solution-driven unionism,” means pragmatism driven unionism; picking your fights and understanding that crafting solutions is far more effective than a win or lose approach.

Every year the UFT gives a million dollars in scholarships to deserving high school graduates, the UFT is supporting legislation to change the multiple choice test score method for admission to specialized high schools (Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, etc.), which results in only a handful of Black and Hispanic students passing the test, to a multiple measures system, a change strongly supported by the NAACP.

Union leadership in New York City has created a climate in which the public sees the union at the forefront of working to create better schools in partnership with parents, in spite of a snarky barrage of negative articles in the print media. Teacher tenure is not an issue.

Every day, on Twitter, on Facebook, in blogs, in computer downloads the battle goes on … the battle for the hearts and minds, in the battle to convince legislators, to convince parents and voters, the battle to brand policies, to embed sticky ideas, the teacher union works to brand themselves as allies and partners of parent and families.

And, no, it is not obvious, the public is overwhelmed with messages, we have moved from a 24-hour news cycle to a 24-second news cycle. The “winners” will not be decided by the best ideas, the “winners” will be decided by those who can change public opinion, to build consensus, to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate.

BTW, eliminating tenure would probably increase a district budget. Howard Wainer, the author of Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies, in a brief, powerful paper identified a district that ended tenure for superintendents, over the years after the elimination of tenure the teacher-superintendent salary gap widened significantly. To attract superintendents the district had to increase salaries, when given a choice teachers would clearly choose to work in districts with tenure and the only way to attract teachers would be to pay them more than in non-tenure districts.The elimination of tenure: a perfect example a “misguided education policy.”

Vergara v California Strikes Down Teacher Tenure: Which State is Next? New York State?

The Los Angeles Superior Court sustained the appellants and ruled that the California teacher tenure laws violate the state constitution. (Read full text here)

The NY Times writes,

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In his sharply worded 16-page ruling, Judge Treu compared the Vergara case to the historic desegregation battle of Brown v. Board of Education, saying that the earlier case addressed “a student’s fundamental right to equality of the educational experience,” and that this case involved applying that principle to the “quality of the educational experience.”

He agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that California’s current laws make it impossible to remove the system’s numerous low-performing and incompetent teachers, because the tenure system assures them a job essentially for life; that seniority rules requiring the newest teachers to be laid off first were harmful; and that granting tenure to teachers after only two years on the job was farcical, offering far too little time for a fair assessment of the teacher’s skills.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan vigorously endorsed the decision.

“For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.”

The decision is not surprising, in a previous decision the California courts struck down the layoff of teachers in high needs schools by seniority, (“last in, first out”) ruling that the layoff rules disadvantage the neediest students by laying off the least senior teachers who were clustered in the highest needs schools.

The tenure decision, of course, is absurd. There are many states without any tenure laws and the absence of laws has no impact on pupil achievement. The state with the highest level of student achievement for high needs students, Massachusetts, is one of the highest unionized states. The “great teacher,” canard, that waiting in the wings are endless “great teachers” waiting to rush into the classrooms of bad teachers is a fantasy. In the real world we do not have precise methods of measuring teacher ability. If we were able to measure teacher performance two-thirds would fall in the middle of the bell curve – with about two percent at either end of the curve.

Virtually every expert warns that attempts to measure teachers by test scores are fraught with the possibility of errors. To remove tenure and allow principals and school boards to dismiss whomever they choose would unquestionably lead to discharge by favoritism, by race/ethnicity, by size, by anything the firing authority desires.

The teacher unions in California have aggressively fought legislative attempt to extend the probationary period beyond the current eighteen months and the discharge process is lengthy. Perhaps they should have negotiated changes; however that is hindsight.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which opposed the suit, has promised to fight the ruling in court, saying the decision overlooks a bigger problem: inadequate funding.

“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

“[The judge] argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that,” Ms. Weingarten said. “But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice. … It’s surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.”

The lawsuit, funded by a Silicon Valley zillionaire is disrespectful to all teachers.

In high income schools and school districts kids do well, high test scores, does that mean the teachers are excellent? In high poverty schools kids struggle, that means the teachers are bad, of course not.

Does the decision mean that teacher tenure laws are in jeopardy across the nation? In New York State?

While teachers are uncomfortable with the NYS teacher evaluation law (APPR), as it turns out UFT President Michael Mulgrew was right.

Mulgrew has argued that the new teacher evaluation law actually protects teachers. The multiple measures law (60% supervisory judgment based upon an approved rubric, 20% student test scores and 20% a locally negotiated measure) produces a score and teachers are measured against other teachers who teach “similar” students. In the first year 51% of teachers scored “highly effective,” 40% “effective,” 8% “developing” and 1% “ineffective.”

Teachers with consecutive “ineffective” scores can be charged and undergo an expedited appeal process.

Using the courts to attack tenure in New York State would be frivolous.

Vergara will move through the California appellate courts and a year or two down the road the California Supreme Court will rule.

Vergara will not change one reality – if we superimpose a map of poverty by zip code and schools by lowest achievement the maps would be a perfect match.

50% or higher teacher turnover rates in high needs schools are commonplace, removing tenure will only discourage teachers who want to work in challenging settings. Yes, inadequate teachers should be discharged as a result of an orderly procedure with the decision made by an mutually agreed upon arbitrator in a timely fashion. Tenure is simply a due process protection.

Rather than benefiting students in high needs schools the decision will achieve the opposite.

As the economy continues to improve and onerous laws attacking teachers and the profession spread fewer and fewer of the “best and the brightest” will choose to teach.

And, loyal lifelong teacher Democratic voters are so angry, so disappointed that the chances of Republicans gaining control of the Senate only increases.

If Arne’s glee over Vergara antagonizes enough voters he may spend his last two years watching Republicans dismantle public education.

Will the New Mayor/Chancellor Feign a New Path or Offer True Collaboration? Can the Union Move from Confrontation to Collaboration?

The announcement of the new chancellor is imminent … a few days.

Mayor de Blasio, the new chancellor, the teacher and supervisor union presidents Mulgrew and Logan and recognizable parent leaders will be standing on the podium. The newly selected chancellor will use the occasion to set a new path, the “right” statements about working together, the required platitudes, a new direction for a new administration.

Within a week or two the mayor and the chancellor will make “bold” announcements turning around a few of the Bloomberg initiatives. As I have written previously, maybe a freeze on co-locations and the end of the ATR pool, a number of concrete symbolic steps that tell the workforce we intend to turnaround the twelve years of Bloomberg.

Does turnaround mean devolving to the pre-Bloomberg past or setting a new path to the future?

For teachers the past is appealing, it’s familiar: geographic school districts, powerful superintendents, policy set from Central, a paramilitary structure, and a noblesse oblige attitude toward teachers. The Klein administration came to power and imposed a new structure; moving from 32 community school districts to five regional K-12 regions; over the years the Bloomberg regency morphed to four “knowledge” networks, to quasi-independent empowerment schools, eliminated the position of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning and established sixty affinity-based 25 school networks, it was dizzying. Bloomberg/Klein were purposefully disruptive, the goal to destroy the past, in essence “burn the books.” burn the memories.

Where will the new chancellor take us?

Mike Petrilli, a the incoming president of a the Fordham Foundation, a conservative think tank, in the NY Daily News, urges,

… de Blasio needs to come to grips with a simple truth: Any gains provided by a massive new investment in preschool will quickly fade away if he doesn’t also tackle New York City’s mediocre elementary schools.

What makes them mediocre? It’s the curriculum, stupid — or the lack thereof. When Bloomberg and Joel Klein exploded on the scene in the early 2000s, they were famously agnostic about what kids actually learn in the classroom day-to-day. To Klein’s credit, he eventually came to see the errors of his ways, and in his last years as chancellor he embraced the Core Knowledge program — a coherent, content-rich curriculum that is a model for what kids in New York, and nationwide, need if they are going to become strong readers.

What’s so special about content knowledge? As scholar and Core Knowledge creator E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has argued for 30 years — and as more recent cognitive science has confirmed — knowledge is the building block of literacy. Once students learn to “decode” the English language, their ability to comprehend what they read is all about what they know.

Should the new chancellor “require” an elementary school curriculum, be it Core Knowledge or another curriculum? How many decisions should come from on high? If curriculum is decided by the school district leaders, if classroom instruction methodology is also mandated, as it is in requiring the Danielson Frameworks, do we squelch innovation?

Should the new core principles be developed with the participation of the stakeholders?

Should the new school district leader, as Joel Klein did, embrace a curriculum for the entire city? Bring coherence; create a rigid Chancellor’s District approach for every school?

Or, is Eric Nadelstern right? “The more authority you share, the more influential you become.”

Jonathan Molofsky, a nationally recognized professional developer avers, “The answers are in the room.” The answers are not in the distant aeries of Boards of Education, the answers are not in selecting the “right” reading program or in hiring the “right” consultant, the answers in are in the hearts and minds of each and every teacher. The challenge is to move teachers from benign followers of the ukases from on high to instructional partners, partners with colleagues working under the direction of a strong leader.

Randi Weingarten, in the Winter, 2013-14 issue of the American Educator writes,

Students and educators benefit greatly from effective partnerships between teacher unions and school districts … unfortunately, without partners on both sides of the labor-management equation willing to put students in the forefront of their concerns, significant progress will be impeded, if not impossible.

Frankly collaboration is harder than confrontation. Many people are more comfortable with the us-versus- them posture … While some see collaboration as capitulation what it does is the seeding of trust and good will, not the ceding of authority and responsibility. It’s not easy, but it is effective.

For some inside the ranks of the union, collaboration does mean capitulation, and the firmest defenders of every comma in the union contract are frequently the union activists.

Will the union leadership willing to negotiate a new contract based on collaboration?

There is abundant research to support a culture of collaboration. Glen Anrig in “Cultivating Collaboration: The Science behind Thriving Labor-Management Relationships,” points us to a study by the highly regarded Chicago Consortium on School Research,

“… the most effective schools, based on test score improvement over time, …developed an unusually high degree of ‘relational trust’ among stakeholders [and] developed five key organizational features,

1. A coherent instructional guidance system, in which the curriculum, study materials and assessments are coordinated within and across grades with meaningful teacher involvement;

2. An effective system to improve instructional capacity, including making teachers’ classroom work public for examination by colleagues and external consultants, and to enable ongoing support and guidance for teachers;

3. Strong parent-community school ties, with an integrated support network for students;

4. A student-centered learning climate that identifies and responds to difficulties any child may be experiencing; and.

5. Leadership focused on cultivating teachers, parents and community members, so that they become invested in sharing overall responsibility for the school’s improvement.”

The tendency will be to follow the lead of John King, the State Commissioner, and issue regulations and requirements and press releases and declare victory, to see the principals and teachers and their organizations as “special interests” and simply move forward, after all that’s what school district leaders have been taught to do.

There is an opportunity in New York City to do what no chancellor has done, to change the direction of a school system with the union as a partner. It is risky for the union.

Perhaps begin by carving out a space – a collaboration zone with a “thin” contract?

After the press conferences fade and the initial elation ebbs, will the stakeholders engage? Will the new chancellor seek to engage with the union? Will the union take the risk of dragging along recalcitrant members?

From Washington to state capitals to Boards of Education, from the Broad Academy model, from Los Angeles to New York City the script has been the same: school choice, aka charter schools, school closings, accountability, aka testing and evaluating teachers based on dense algorithms, the Common Core, the denigration of senior teachers, aka Teach For America, and, generally viewing teachers and their unions as obstacles to progress.

Will de Blasio and his new chancellor break the mold and will the unions take the risk of moving to a collaborative model?

A new mayor with new ideas offers the possibility of institutional change, offers the possibility of creating new school cultures; windows for change are only open for a while.

FLASH: Newspapers and twitter announce de Blasio has chosen Carmen Farina as the new chancellor.

Finding Common Ground: The Complex Task of Building Coalitions and Understanding the Difference Between Friends and Enemies

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Benjamin Franklin

Up early and on my bike for my morning ride along the East River. The sun glints off the waves stirred by a brisk wind, the Asian men fishing, the joggers plodding away, a soccer practice in progress, the Parks Department folk planting and fertilizing, a crisp November morning.

Bike helmet in hand I walk into my polling place – no lines – a steady flow of voters. I squint at the tiny print and bubble in my votes for candidates and constitutional elections; lots of neighbors wearing de Blasio pins. Yes!!

On Sunday, along with hundreds of other union members I celebrated Teacher Union Day, an annual event, always the Sunday before Election Day. The union recognizes its own: chapter leaders, political activists, fifty-year union membership and teams of principals and chapter leaders who collaborate effectively at the school level. Unexpectedly, candidate Bill de Blasio dropped in and gave a short rousing speech, hugged Michael Mulgrew and introduced his wife, a nice touch.

Randi Weingarten, unobtrusively sitting at a table, had a prescient column in the New York Times, “Will the States Fail the Common Core,”

Randi writes,

Instruction in many wealthier public and private schools is routinely aligned to such [Common Core] skills, often through project-based and hands-on learning. But between budget cuts and top-down accountability laws like No Child Left Behind—whose testing fixation promotes test-prep and rote memorization—poor kids have gotten less access to the well-rounded, rigorous education they deserve. Without standards aligned to what kids need to succeed in college, career and life, and ample supports to help them get there, that chasm will grow even wider.

And explains her support for the Common Core,

Common Core standards [are] not a silver bullet, and they’re not the only thing kids need for a great public education. But they have the potential to disrupt the cycle of increasing poverty and economic and social stratification by making essential skills and knowledge available to all children, not just some.

And goes on to slam the leadership at the State level,

But even good ideas can be torpedoed by bad execution. In New York, officials rushed to impose tests and consequences way before students were ready. And Louisiana, New Mexico and other states are skimping on or simply bungling implementation. If officials are trying to make these standards unattainable, they’re doing a great job. No wonder students, their parents and teachers are angry, anxious and demoralized.

Weingarten points to a number of accountability tools aside from standardized tests,

Speaking of testing, it is not anti-accountability to support measures of student learning other than standardized tests. That’s the essence of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, 39 diverse and highly successful public high schools that have received waivers from state standardized exams and so can emphasize higher-order skills, such as crafting and defending a college thesis paper.

Ironically at the same time that the AFT President is slamming states for their poor implementation of Common Core standards Randi agreed to respond to Mercedes Schneider, a snarky blogger in Louisiana. Diane Ravitch occasionally reposts Schneider’s posts, they are smart and passionate.

Strangely Schneider chooses to harshly criticize Randi for her alleged lack of full time teaching experience and her advocacy for the Common Core, and, Randi responds in detail.

About thirty or so commenters posted responses, Leo Casey, the leader of the Shanker Institute and former UFT High School Vice President overreacted defending Randi, the anti-Common Core folk joined in, the defenders of Randi were marginalized by Mercedes, who tells us she will not be posting comments from supporters/defenders of Weingarten.

Read Mercedes letter and Randi’s response plus the comments here

It distresses me that teacher bloggers would choose to attack Randi rather than find common ground to change the direction of education policy on the national scene. I do not see the Common Core as the “enemy;” as a high school teacher I see the Social Studies and English standards as aspirational targets, not that different than the last list of standards. The problem is the implementation, wholly based on testing and data-collection, is absurd. If the Common Core was decoupled from testing I do not believe we would be facing this enormous backlash.

The anti-Common Core coalition from the far right see the Common Core as part of the Obama plot to force gay marriage on our children, take away our guns, make May Day a national holiday and on the left seizing classroom decisions from the hands of classroom teachers.

Hey, it’s a democracy and what makes America wonderful, believe what you want, and blog about it if you choose.

Changing policies on any political level is about building coalitions of the like-minded. To me, the most comfortable coalition is teachers and their organizations and parents. Personally I could not ally myself with folks opposed to almost everything I treasure.

As a union representative I learned that I had to work with principals and superintendents, we could collaborate on some issues and “agree to disagree” on others. I worked with my superintendent on involving parents and teachers in school-budgeting and at the same time pursued grievances challenging the mandating the format of lesson plans.

Mercedes’ decision to refuse to post responses from commenters who disagree with her flies in the face of the open dialogue that the web enables. I welcome comments from the entire spectrum, I hope that readers can engage; I hope that my efforts will create a dialogue, perhaps I will influence, and perhaps I will be influenced.

Today, in New York City, we will be electing a mayor who seems to support much of the union educational agenda. Across the state parents, teachers and legislators are beginning to push back against the state over testing and the selling of personnel student data.

Organizations from around the city have spent months, initially supporting different candidates, now on the same side. Across the state Republicans and Democrats are coming together.

I would hope that the stalwart group of education bloggers can identify areas of agreement and use their substantial influence across the net to push back on the forces of evil.

Mercedes, Randi is not an enemy, and, unfortunately Michelle Rhee must be chuckling and privately hoping you continue tossing stones.

Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten are friends, they don’t agree on everything, they undoubtedly disagree on strategies and tactics, yet, at the last AFT Convention Diane was on the stage giving a powerful speech.

Let’s use Diane and Randi’s relationship as a model.

Whispering in de Blasio’s Ear: Running a City Versus Winning an Election: Who is Advising the Mayor Presumptive?

The day after Bill Thompson conceded the folks who ran de Blasio’s campaign packed up their laptops and moved on to the next race. They earned their fees.

600,000 Democratic voters selected a mayor for eight million New Yorkers, the de Blasio team knew how to push the right buttons. The TV commercial featuring his son’s Afro, the constant drumbeat on “stop-and-frisk,” the “tale of two cities” scenario carried the day for the 270,000 voters, the 40.3% who “elected” Bill de Blasio.

With a forty point bulge in the polls Bill de Blasio will be swept to victory on November 5th – his opponent’s chance of winning is about the same as the Mets winning the World Series and the Jets winning the Super Bowl.

The team that won the election is not the team who will run the city and the mayor presumptive is faced with a pre-election dilemma. How does he go about assembling a team that can satisfy his campaign promises? How does he address the long line at the Gracie Mansion door wanting to be paid back for their support?

Bill has to be careful; friends he trusts may not be giving him the professional advice he needs.

In the Carter administration I was having lunch with a “mover and shaker,” a partner in an important law firm that had guided national policy on a wide range of issues – he was bemoaning the selection of Carter’s fellow Georgians as his inner circle.

“This Carter guy told me, ‘You think only the Northeastern elite can run the country, only the Harvard/Yale crowd?’ to be perfectly honest, yes, we are the only ones.” BTW, the nine members of the Supreme Court come from, yes; you guessed it, only Harvard and Yale.

Carter felt “comfortable” with his good old boy pals, and he turned out to be a one- term president.

The two most important appointments to de Blasio’s administration, appointments that will frame his administration will be a new police commissioner and a new chancellor for the school system.

The speculation about the police commissioner was featured in the NY Times,

“For a change-oriented mayor, there’s a benefit to bringing in somebody from the outside,” said Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has discussed policing policy with Mr. de Blasio. “The next police commissioner faces two equally compelling imperatives: first to continue to bring crime down, and second to help the city navigate its way out of the current conundrum about the stop-and-frisk tactics.”

There appear to be a number of highly regarded candidates ranging from Bill Bratton to others both in and out of the current police hierarchy.

On the school front the choice is far more complex, there is no obvious candidate; there are many suitors.

Rumor has it that a former superintendent, Carmen Farina is the “whisperer” in the presumptive mayor’s ear.

A mistake.

Farina had a long career: principal to superintendent to regional superintendent to deputy chancellor, she left under a cloud. (Read details here)

Sources tell parent advocates’ reporters that Ms. Farina placed the daughter of former Brooklyn Technological High School Principal Lee McCaskill in PS 29, a violation of NYC BOE policies (McCaskill lived in New Jersey). Special Investigators were angry with Mr. Klein for permitting Mrs. Farina to retire before she was convicted. Farina, as well as Chancellor Joel Klein, have no contracts with the NYC DOE, and there’s the rub: How Do they get away with this?

While it may be comfortable to sit down with someone you know critical decisions must be made with the advice of the “wise men,” the city fathers (and daughters) who understand both the complexities, the skills required to govern as well as the politics.

De Blasio should listen to Randi Weingarten, Bill Thompson, Dick Parsons, Diane Ravitch, Mathew Goldstein, David Steiner … the best minds in the city.

His high profile campaign pledge, full day pre-kindergarten appears “dead-on-arrival” in Albany. In an election year, all of Albany is up for re-election, the Republicans on the Senate side and the Governor are openly cool to any increase in taxes to fund anything; by the 4th week in March the budget will be done – does de Blasio “fight the good fight,” and lose – or is there a way to “save face?”

Police commissioners and chancellors must support the policies of the mayor; earn the support of the public and the employees they lead.

The mayor needs a chancellor who can navigate Scylla and Charybdis, who can steer around the whirlpools and eddies and not be tempted by the bewitching song of the sirens. The chancellor, learning from Odysseus may have to bind himself tightly to the mast, his men blocking their ears with wax to avoid the alluring seductive melodies that would bring him, and the administration to doom.

Enough Greek mythology, although we can learn a great deal from the Greeks; listening to the guy next to you on the bar stool will empty your wallet and chase away your girlfriend.

Finding sages who have “been there and done that,” who have a vested interest in your success, crafting polices that are morally, ethically and politically attainable is the path a mayor must follow.