Tag Archives: Shael Suransky

Flanagan Hearings: An Opportunity to Vent, To Educate, Maybe, To Legislate

John Flanagan is an interesting politician with a bright future, A State Senator who represents the affluent North Shore of Long Island; in a period were the word “Republican” brings up images of the “Tea Party” and attacks on the President, the Affordable Care Act, immigration and just about every federal and state entitlement program Flanagan has steered clear of the ideology-driven rhetoric. He has wide support across the spectrum.

The New York State Senate has a unique leadership – Republican Dean Skelos is the titular party leader, he shares the leadership with Jeff Klein, a Democrat, who leads the break-away Independent Democratic Caucus. Bills require a Skelos-Klein nod to get to the floor.

The State legislature is almost totally controlled by the party leaders. On the Assembly side Sheldon Silver, the Speaker is the traditional iron-fisted leader who skillfully juggles the wants and needs of a potentially cantankerous membership.

In the uproar over the state testing program you hear not a whimper from the Assembly side.

Senator Flanagan has held hearings around the state, Long Island, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Tuesday in Manhattan.

Watch the hearings and read submitted testimony here

The hearings are an opportunity for the “invited guests” to educate the senators, speak to the media in the audience, and build support for their agenda.

The Manhattan session began with a packed room: Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Department of Education Chief Education Officer Shael Policoff-Suranky interacted with the Senators. (Read news story here)

The outcomes:

* State Education will be announcing a number of New York City
“listening sessions” for the commissioner around the state testing program
* State Education will be reducing the testing regimen – a little.
* Mulgrew strongly supported the Common Core and sharply criticized the implementation – especially linking the Common Core to the brand new, untried teacher evaluation system
* Mulgrew was especially critical of the lack of a state curriculum and urged the state to work to development a curriculum, acknowledging that the ultimate responsibility was at the local level.
* Mulgrew derided the “testing” of kindergarten students.
* Suransky defended the department efforts, this was year three of the five year Common Core rollout, defended the department and pointed to the expenditure of hundreds of millions to train teachers.
* Suransky, proudly, pointed to significantly higher teacher growth scores in New York City – well above the scores for the rest of the state, as well as growth in student scores.
* Suransky said that 5-6% of fifth and sixth graders could not complete the test – up from the 1-2% in previous years.

While the press coverage resulted in active live tweeting, sound bites on the radio and a few news stories the impact may be on the senators sitting on the panel.

Senator Flanagan was deft in his questioning, as were the other electeds on the panel.

The Board of Regents was created in the 18th century and is a unique system of governance. The members of the Board are elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State legislature, the governor has no role. The commissioner is selected by the Regents – the governor, once again, has no role. While the legislature and the governor fund the educational system throughout the state the executive and the legislative bodies have no voice in the creation of policies or the operation of the thousands of schools across seven hundred school districts, except to pass laws that would preempt regulations. It is an archaic and cumbersome machinery.

The Flanagan hearings could result in the introduction of proposed legislation, or, simply provide a forum for parents to vent.

John Flanagan is smart, popular, and, I would imagine ambitious. It will be interesting to see if the high profile forums lead to a more aggressive stance by the elected officials.

Musing on a New Chancellor and the Quandary of the Mayor, Experienced or Brash?

Henry IV was twenty-six years old in 1076 and Gregory VII was over fifty when at long last he came out from behind the scenes and became Pope.

“Early in his papacy, Gregory VII attempted to enact reforms to the investiture process; he was met by resistance from the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. Henry insisted that he reserved the traditionally established right of previous emperors to “invest” bishops and other clergymen, despite the papal decree.

Henry renounced Gregory as pope; in return, Gregory excommunicated and deposed Henry. He stated furthermore that, one year from that day, the excommunication would become permanent and irrevocable.”

Henry feared he would lose his kingdom if he did not come as a supplicant to the pope and receive absolution from the ban on receiving the holy sacraments.

“Dressed in woolen garments and with bare feet he traveled across the Alps to the papal castle in Canossa in the height of winter blizzards and told the pope that he cared much more for the celestial than the earthly kingdom; and offered to accept humbly whatever penance the pope would inflict.”

Today, “Canossa” refers to an act of penance or submission. To “go to Canossa” is an expression – to describe doing penance, often with the connotation that it is unwilling or coerced.

Will Shael “Go to Canossa” to seek absolution from the new pope, Bill de Blasio?

(Thought a little Core Knowledge and Common Core would raise the standards of the blog)

Over the last few weeks Shael announced that he was piloting a new accountability system not based solely on test scores, exactly what the union has been espousing for years.

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

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

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

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

On a panel on Tuesday Shael chastised the mayor and the union for negotiating an extended instructional day in 2005 rather than using the time for staff collaboration, again, basically a long held union core belief.

Has Shael “Gone to Canossa?”

Will the new pope “lift the ban” and select Shael to lead the school system? Unlikely.

The burdens are too great: was Shael an architect of the ATR pool, fair student funding, the enormous emphasis on testing, the training of principals and on and on, or, was he the voice of reason within the administration who was the “good soldier” who carried out orders with which he did not agree?

It is more likely that “Pope” Bill will want to break with the past, a new face.

Will he seek another large city superintendent, like Josh Starr (Montgomery County) or Andres Alonso (Baltimore)? Starr, after a few years in the classroom moved to Tweed and on to Stamford, Connecticut as superintendent. Starr had a rocky six years, rigid, battling with the NEA union local and the community. In Montgomery County he has become an outspoken opponent of high stakes testing, however, he’s an avid data-phile. Alonso was never more than a few steps away from Joel Klein and in Baltimore followed the (de)form playbook, although he did work closely with the union.

Neither is a break from the past although both appear eager to please their boss.

There are a number others hovering in the wings.

Betty Rosa was a superintendent in the South Bronx is currently a member of the Board of Regents and has been an expert and lifelong advocate for English language learners. Kathleen Cashin, a highly successful Regional Superintendent under the early Klein years, and, also a member of the Board of Regents, a professor at Fordham University, has been an outspoken critic of the Duncan/King game plan. Irma Zadoya, also a Regional Superintendent under Klein is currently leading the department leadership Programs. Carmen Farina, an advisor to the presumptive mayor has made it clear she is retired.

Maybe a superintendent in a high performing school district: Paris, Seoul, Helsinki?

Will Bill want to keep the “trains on the tracks,” or, like Governor Jerry Brown in California directly challenge the “Duncan Rules?”

I think the time is ripe to challenge the decade of (de)form, to pick a chancellor not tied to Arne in DC or John King in Albany, to pick a chancellor who is amenable to the wishes of parents and professionals, a chancellor to lead us back to sanity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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