Tag Archives: Richard Carranza

Is New York City Headed Toward a Collaborative School System Eschewing Testing for Project-Based Learning or Using Tests to Batter and Punish Schools? Schizophrenia Abounds

As the opening of school approaches CityandState, an online website hosts an Education Summit. The guest speaker was Richard Carranza, the chancellor, I blogged about his presentation here.  and included an audio of his presentation.

The chancellor announced a new initiative, Edustats, and gave a brief discussion.

Yesterday the City Council conducted a hearing on excessive testing and I signed up to testify. The chair of the committee, Mark Treyger, is a New York City high school teacher on leave.

The council has oversight responsibility; in a mayoral control city the council has no authority over schools; except, to hold public hearings.

The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to give exposure to the 38 high schools that have a waiver from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Regents Examination requirements. The waiver schools only require the English Regents; students present in-depth research papers in Social Studies, Mathematics and Science. The state has been renewing the waivers since the 90’s; the current waiver is for five years. The schools are part of the Performance-Based Standards Consortium , a not-for-profit run by the estimable Ann Cook, The Consortium functions as sort of a somewhat independent cluster within the larger school system. Numerous chancellors and commissioners have approved the waivers, some reluctantly and not without external political pressures.

Laura Chin, the # 2 at the Department of Education testified at the hearing and mentioned Edustats, the new Department initiative; Treyger pressed her on the program. The Department will require periodic assessments, the Executive Superintendents will review the results with Superintendents, and Chin described the process as similar to the New York Police Department (NYPD) Comstat system. Borough commanders meet with precinct commanders and review data, detailed crime statistics, and grill the precinct commanders: what have they done to respond to statistical increases in the crime data? Why isn’t it working? The precinct commanders despise the process: public shaming with the threat of job removal. While the precinct commander can move patrol cops from one area to another schools can’t prevent evictions or provide food for families or more racially integrated schools.

According to Chin every school would create an Instructional Leadership Team to address the Edustats results. (Don’t we already have School Leadership Teams?)

Chin responded to questioning describing the system as a benign “in-house” self-assessment.

In my testimony I described Edustats as educational “Hunger Games.”

For decades school districts have been implementing similar approaches. They are all based on a fallacy: given proper “motivation” and “information” all teachers can raise all test scores. A flawed belief system: there is a “magic” bullet that will raise test scores.

Teachers assess data every day.

Who is absent, late, crying, sad, wearing dirty clothes, hungry, addressing these “data” is a key part of the teaching/learning process.

Every lesson we teach contains “tests for understanding,” we ask questions, we call on volunteers and non-volunteers, check student work, we give quizzes, written work, we re-teach in another format, we are constantly searching for the proper “tool” that will help the student learn and be able to apply the concept.

Schools are complex entities, they attempt to build cultures of inquiry, cultures of collaboration, cultures of caring. The hierarchy can support inquiry-based school cultures. Charlotte Danielson’s other book, “Talk about Teaching: Leading Professional Conversation” explores the power dynamic in schools and how school leaders can engage in meaningful dialogues with teachers.

School leaders can observe lessons with the goal to evaluate by finding flaws or engage in a two-way dialogue with the teacher.

The chancellor has been emphasizing removing bias and culturally relevant-sustaining education they may remove obstacles to effective teaching and learning, and may not.

The most effective predictor of test results is parent education and income.

The New School Center for NYC Affairs study, “A Better Picture of Poverty” identifies in-school and out of school “poverty risk load factors.” Our current school management structure fails to deal with the social/emotional side of the equation, fails to address factors beyond the classroom that impact the student within the classroom.

Sean Reardon and his colleagues at Stanford have released a massive study, asking “how intertwined are racial segregation and economic inequality?” The study may enable us to more finely attune our approaches to improving academic outcomes in schools.

The de Blasio administration has been working with the teacher union to create collaborative, school-based strategies.

The Bronx Plan negotiated between the teacher union and the Department is designed reduce teacher attrition in the most at-risk schools as well as built stronger school cultures. (See description here)

Over 100 schools are part of the PROSE initiative, an opportunity to create school-based innovative programs that requires change to Department regulations or contract provisions. (See PROSE application here).

The council hearing was ironic, on one hand the # 2 at the Department described a process that can easily deteriorate into “test and punish” and at the same hearing students, teachers and school leaders in Consortium schools described in detail schools in which deep investigation leading to the production of a project reflecting the research instead of a single test. The process takes months of teacher-directed work and requires the student to defend their project before teachers and critical friends.

Should we push to expand the number of Consortium schools? Can the Consortium strategies be applied to elementary and middle schools? And, the elephant in the room, can you scale-up these concepts?

The Department seems to be in a schizophrenic cauldron. One part of the Department working with the union in creating bottom-up approaches to teaching and learning, another part reverting to the “test and punish,” testing-on-steroids approach to teaching and learning.

It will be interesting to see whether the Reardon data is applicable to New York City and what it tells us about our schools.

Data should drive policy: the question: whose data and whose interpretation of the data.

NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza: Assessing His Performance in a Mayoral Control Environment

Richard Carranza, the New York City school chancellor walks a tightrope; the leader of a 1.1 million student school district in a mayoral control city in which the mayor is running for president as the candidate furthest to the left. The mayor is appealing to Afro-American voters and the most progressive voters on the Democratic spectrum, his education policies, he hopes, are appealing to his potential voters.

Carranza has to juggle satisfying the political needs of his boss with his own educational philosophy.

CityandStateNY, a website reporting news online on a daily basis hosts an Education Summit every August, a keynote speaker, usually the city chancellor or the state commissioner and a number of panels that confront the issues expected in the upcoming year.

Last year Carranza, who had only been on the job a few months, gave a typical speech: Who am I? What do I believe? And, “I’m one of you;” a speech trying to connect with tens of thousands of school personnel and parents. A year later:  the agenda of the mayor has dominated the chancellor’s first year.

On Thursday Carranza returned to the Education Summit, reflected on his first year and laid out his agenda for the upcoming year, a mixture of continuing the mayor’s progressive agenda and his ideas; structural changes that I find troubling.

Listen to the chancellor speech here – about 35 minutes – I urge you to listen.

The dominant education issue last year was the segregated nature of the admission process for the Specialized High Schools, and the entrance examination, the Specialized High School Admissions Test that is required by state law. Last year at Stuyvesant High School only nine Afro-American students passed the entrance exam out of over 900 students who received acceptance offers. A year later the legislature has taken no action to change the exam and the issue continues to dominate the education debate.

The mayor/chancellor has avoided another issue. There are over 200 middle and high schools with entrance requirements: test scores, interviews, portfolios, all under the discretion of the chancellor. The students are far whiter and more middle class than the school system. The schools are extremely popular with progressive voter parents. The chancellor has taken no action to alter/reduce/eliminate the screens.

School integration: an Advisory School Diversity Task Force issued a report and the chancellor has accepted almost all of the recommendations. Three school districts will be implementing locally designed integration initiatives in September with four other districts investigating plans with modest funds supporting the efforts; nibbling around the edges of “the most segregated school district in the nation.”

The mayor and chancellor continue to juggle, supporting progressive policies and avoiding major initiatives that might antagonize progressive voters.

The chancellor’s equity agenda is progressive, and, controversial.

A $23 million implicit bias training program for all staff: will a few hours of a workshop make teachers more sensitive to their implicit biases? And, how do we know it?  Or, (my cynical side) just an appeal to the most progressive voters?

The chancellor has also adopted a state initiative: Culturally Responsive – Sustaining Education. The state describes CR-SE as,

The CR-S framework helps educators create student-centered learning environments that: affirm racial, linguistic, and cultural identities; prepare students for rigor and independent learning; develop students’ abilities to across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; and, empower students as agents of social change.

 Alert: the draft California Ethnic Studies Curriculum created a firestorm.

The [curriculum] has led to bitter debate in recent weeks over whether they veer into left-wing propaganda, and whether they are inclusive enough of Jews and other ethnic groups. Now, amid a growing outcry, even progressive policymakers in the state are promising significant revisions.

The materials are unapologetically activist — and jargony. They ask students to “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression.” A goal, the draft states, is to “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice.”

Will CR-SE incorporate the New York Times 1619 Project , a detailed exploration of slavery in America, in my view a wonderful resource, or, stumble as the California Ethnic Studies curriculum?

I have no objection; in fact, I support these initiatives, if they are implemented in a sensible, collegial manner. If you read the Common Core State Standards you probably agree with them, the implementation was disastrous. I fear imposed checklists rather than school-developed implementation plans.

I favor targeted more school-based targeted interventions.

I’m a pragmatist: I suggest to the chancellor:

  • Twelve month school years from pre-K through the First Grade, ideally with the same teacher with a social worker assigned to a discrete number of classes.
  • Each staff member assigned to perhaps ten students as mentors for their entire time in middle and high schools.
  • Change the Fair Student Funding formula, at risk schools, defined by chronic absenteeism, disciplinary “incidents,” and student achievement, would be assigned guidance counselors and social workers apart from the standard budget allocations.

The most challenging schools are overwhelmed each and every day; disciplinary issues, parent issues, bureaucracy “demands;” are not alleviated by a myriad of “programs.”

School culture is the key to school success, schools accepting “ownership” of their own practice; I fear the chancellor thinks that “success” can be imposed from the caverns of Tweed.

The chancellor pointed to two new structural initiatives: Instructional Leadership Frameworks (ILF) and “Edustats.”

ILF appears to be attempting to align supervisory supports, from the chancellor to executive superintendents down through the ranks: sounds like a Danielson Frameworks for supervisors.

Currently the Department collects reams of school achievement data, and, much of the data is publicly available on the Department website.  Take a look at the school performance dashboard for one school here.

The chancellor introduced a new initiative: Edustats. What are “Edustats?” As I understood the chancellor’s description: multiple tests through the school year with prescriptions for targeted interventions; that’s right, more testing.  Schools have purchased these programs for decades, without any sustained impact. On August 8th the Department posted a number of high level Edustat positions and I assume a new section at the Department churning out tests and data-sets by classroom. Sigh!!!

Changing classroom practice rarely comes from being beaten into submission; changing classroom practice comes when school leaders and teachers, collectively, devise student-centered instructional practices with rigorous curriculum and supportive assistance from superintendents and the bureaucracy.

I hope I’m misreading the Carranza approach.

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis of Education Politics in New York

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis   of Education Politics in New York

New York City is a mayoral control city, meaning that the school leader, called the chancellor, is appointed by school board members (the Panel for Educational Priorities), a majority of whom are appointed by the mayor.  The chancellor is actually the deputy to the mayor for education. Chancellor Carranza’s tenure begins today – managing over 1800 schools, 1.1 million students and over 100,000 unionized employees. The chancellor’s chief of staff is Ursulina Ramirez who served in same role for the mayor in his previous elected office, Public Advocate. The agenda of the chancellor is the agenda of the mayor: both succeed or neither succeeds. Management models vary, from mayoral control (New York, Chicago, Boston, etc.) to Los Angeles, an elected board with millions spent on the elections to Houston, a divided nine-member board elected by geographic areas competing for resources; there is no right or wrong model.

The Mayor of New York City is an outspoken progressive who won a hotly contested 4-way primary election in 2013 and rolled to easy victories in the general elections in 2013 and 2017. Although de Blasio is firmly in the progressive camp the 51-member City Council is much further to the left. De Blasio is term limited, meaning he is building a national reputation for his next run for office, whatever it might be.

A hundred and twenty miles to the north is Albany, the state capital and the political home of Andrew Cuomo, running for his third term as governor. In spite a Republican-controlled Senate Cuomo signed one of the first Marriage Equality laws as well as the strictest gun control laws in the nation. No matter: he is being challenged from the left by Cynthia Nixon, an actor with a long resume of political activism.

De Blasio and Cuomo, both with progressive creds, are bitter enemies, each claiming the progressive mantle.

Tip-toeing between the two most powerful electeds in New York State is the leader of the New York City teacher union (UFT), Michael Mulgrew, who began his career as a carpenter and rather surprisingly became the fifth president of the UFT in 2009. Under constant attack from Mayor Bloomberg Mulgrew not only successfully thwarted the mayor’s attempts to erode the union’s contract, the public trusted the union more than the mayor. Sol Stern in the conservative City Journal reported,

… according to a poll of city voters … sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, with only 27 percent proclaiming it excellent or good; 69 percent said that students in the city’s schools weren’t ready for the twenty-first-century economy. 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.

 While the UFT did not endorse de Blasio in the primary Mulgrew has developed an excellent relationship with the mayor. After more than four years without a contract Mulgrew and de Blasio negotiated a contract with full back pay, de Blasio appointed Carmen Farina, a Department of Education lifer, created the 70,000 student pre-K for All program, and reaped constant praise on teachers. De Blasio and Mulgrew clearly like each other and de Blasio’s appearance at the UFT Delegate Assembly, a huge success – teachers like him.

The brand new de Blasio-Carranza administration faces negotiating a teacher contract; the current agreement expires on November 30th, although in New York State expired agreements remain in force until the successor agreement is agreed upon. One issue is paid maternity/child care leaves; teachers have to use sick days, there is no paid leave. Under Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) policies contracts must comply with “ability to pay” and “patterning bargaining.” Simply put: the union and the city will have to find dollars apart from the base salary increase or reduce the negotiated salary increase, which is unlikely.  Another major issue that applies only to the UFT is the Absent Teacher Reserve, 700 plus teachers who were excessed from closed schools, each year every closed school pumps more teachers into the pool: a bad Bloomberg policy and an expensive policy. If the ATRs are returned to schools can the dollars saved be used for a paid maternity/child care leave settlement?  Just speculating!  I imagine this week, while teachers are on spring break, the new chancellor will be meeting with all the players on the NYC education scene.

The union’s relationship with Cuomo is far more complicated.

The UFT is the largest local in NYSUT, the state teacher union organization. There are 700 school districts, 700 local teacher unions in the state. From New York City, to the other “Big Five” (Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers), to the high tax, high wealth suburban districts to the hundreds of low wealth rural districts that struggle to pay heating bills. The gap in funding among school districts in New York State is among the greatest in the nation.  That’s right: we lead the nation in racially segregated schools and the inequality of school funding.

NYSUT represents all the locals and lobbies for more education dollars for all schools, Cuomo added a section to the budget requiring districts to phase in a dollar by dollar accounting of all education expenditures: a first step to equalizing state education dollars?

Bruce Baker in his superb School Finance 101 blog  is concise,

            To be blunt, money does matter. Schools and districts with more money clearly have greater ability to provide higher-quality, broader, and deeper educational opportunities to the children they serve. Furthermore, in the absence of money, or in the aftermath of deep cuts to existing funding, schools are unable to do many of the things they need to do in order to maintain quality educational opportunities. Without funding, efficiency tradeoffs and innovations being broadly endorsed are suspect. One cannot tradeoff spending money on class size reductions against increasing teacher salaries to improve teacher quality if funding is not there for either – if class sizes are already large and teacher salaries non-competitive. While these are not the conditions faced by all districts, they are faced by many.

While good for New York City, equity in school funding could set school district against school district across the state and “wealthier” local teacher unions versus “poorer” local teacher unions.

NYSUT opposes the use of student data to assess teacher performance, the current matrix system that combines supervisory observations with measures of student learning is supported by UFT, the new system sharply reversed the Bloomberg era – over 3000 adverse rating.

NYSUT comes close to endorsing the opt-out movement, 20% of parents, heavily concentrated in the suburbs are the opt-out base, very few opt-out schools in NYC and the UFT position is: a parental choice.

The elephants will continue to trample the grass: Is Cuomo maneuvering for a 2020 presidential run, and, if so, how will he situate himself on progressive, educational and teacher union issues?

De Blasio is term-limited, what are his political aspirations?

Although de Blasio is on the left; the furthest left since La Guardia, not far enough to the left for his political rivals within the Democratic Party.

Cuomo has a progressive resume and continues to push toward more and more anti-gun measures and has forced the city to cough up millions for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and to repair the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), aka low-income housing, using the budgetary powers of the governor to pre-empt the powers of the NYC mayor.

There is a long history of political rivalry in New York; back in 1804 after tossing insults back and forth Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton “settled” their dispute on the Palisades. While dueling pistols are now museum pieces the modern equivalent is alive and well. Joe Prococo, Cuomo’s closest assistant, whose father Mario called my “third son,” is convicted of taking bribes while working as son Andrew’s closest confident, A strong supporter of de Blasio, Cynthia Nixon, is running against Cuomo in the September democratic primary. Cuomo forces de Blasio to budget hundreds of millions for MTA repairs even though the MTA is a state agency, and, also forces de Blasio to budget 250 million for NYCHA repairs overseen by an outside monitor.

In midst of the boulder throwing Mulgrew has to work with the two Megatrons, a daunting task.

Even within the union the political caucuses urge moving to the left, supporting or opposing this candidate or that candidate. The union meetings, the monthly Delegate Assemblies give Mulgrew and opportunity to “teach,” to float ideas, to interact with local school union leadership.

In my early days as a school district union leader a new superintendent, with a tough reputation was selected, some school union leaders argued we should picket his office on his first day, show him we’re as tough as he was reputed to be. I was fortunate, I was mentored by union leadership who spent a career in the foxholes of politics, dodging bullets and bombs from both sides. I realized I didn’t only represent the militants, I represented all the members. My day-to-day job was responding to their needs: getting a salary or health plan issue resolved, an emergency leave approved, getting a principal off a teacher’s back, and I needed a nod from the superintendent. We worked out a “mature” relationship, we “agreed to disagree” on issues, no surprises, always gave him a heads up if I was going to be publicly critical, and public acclaim for doing “the right thing,” and, not to slighted, we were both avid Mets fans.

On a much larger stage Mulgrew has navigated the political landscape, both praising and criticizing city and state leadership, and, teaching his membership, politics is a romance with good days and not so good days.

If he can get de Blasio and Cuomo to hug, I have a problem in the Middle East he can tackle next.