Tag Archives: Sol Stern

Sol Stern: As American Education Collapses, Democracy’s Foundation Shakes (Warning: A Dystopian View of Our Future)

Sol Stern can best be described as a public intellectual who crosses the political spectrum. Stern opposed union transfer seniority rules, has been sharply critical of Bloomberg and Klein’s educational policies and has written glowingly of the works of E. D. Hirsch. Stein muses:  why do younger voters support a 74-year old self-described Socialist and white males support a robber baron proto-fascist. Warning: Not a rosy view of our future. (originally published in The Daily Beast)


As American Education Collapses, Democracy’s Foundation Shakes

“They know nothing about art. They know nothing about history. They know nothing about philosophy.”



And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Deeply depressed by the rise of Donald Trump and fearful for our nation’s future, I recently found myself reciting the last lines of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach,’ first published in 1861. Arnold was somewhat premature in imagining the world’s descent into chaos and strife. But the poem’s chilling metaphors return to us now as an augury of America’s political crack-up.

What makes the poem even more illuminating for these dreadful times is that Arnold was convinced that the clash of “ignorant armies” would be brought about (at least in part) by bad education. In addition to his standing as one of Victorian Britain’s greatest poets and cultural critics, Arnold was also a serious education reformer. For 35 years he held a day job as an inspector of schools, eventually rising to the position of Chief Inspector of Schools for all of Britain. He went on extended visits to several European countries to study their education systems. In his influential education reports and in some of his critical essays he scorned the individualistic, child centered, and haphazard pedagogy prevalent in British schools at the time (championed by, among others, John Stuart Mill.) Instead, Arnold proposed that government schools be required to teach a core curriculum of liberal, humanistic studies similar to the French schools he had come to admire.

The primary aim of education in an industrial democracy, Arnold believed, was to introduce all children—rich and poor alike —to the achievements of western civilization and culture, which he famously defined as “the best which has been said and thought.” Yet there was nothing elitist about Arnold’s approach to learning. With the rising demands for equality and full civic participation of the working classes, Arnold was confident that the masses were capable of mastering Britain’s rich cultural heritage. He feared that without this shared national spirit the English people would be unable to overcome narrow sectional and economic interests and support the common good. Modern democracy might then degenerate into violence, confusion and the clash of “ignorant armies.”

The political problem that Arnold wrestled with all his life now haunts America. Truth is the first casualty of this year’s presidential election from hell; loss of respect for the nation’s republican heritage is the second. Here’s one example among many:

At a raucous campaign rally in South Carolina last February Donald Trump was riffing on one of his favorite themes—how he would defeat Islamic terrorism overnight if elected president. In that context he brought up General Jack Pershing’s success in suppressing the 1903 Moro rebellion in the Philippines. But Trump falsely claimed that Pershing ordered the execution of dozens of Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, thereby slandering a great American soldier as a war criminal. Trump’s story was subsequently proven to be a big fat lie by fact checkers and historians of the period.

Never mind, forget facts, this is morning in America circa 2016. At a campaign rally in California two months later Trump repeated—almost verbatim—his narrative about General Pershing’s execution of Muslim prisoners. Trump’s supporters erupted with wild cheers and bellowing.

“Ignorant armies,” indeed.

If he were with us now, Matthew Arnold would have minced no words about this spectacle. And he might have asked what had gone wrong with American education, which he admired in his own day. Here’s the answer to Arnold’s hypothetical question:

A half century ago there began a pedagogical upheaval in the nation’s schools, a revolution from the top carried out by self-described “progressives,” that eventually succeeded in stripping away any semblance of a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum. Professional educators (most of them at least) reclaimed romantic theories of child development dating all the way back to Rousseau and powerfully reinforced in the 1930s by the American philosopher John Dewey.

Henceforth the nation’s Ed schools instructed prospective K-12 teachers that children were capable of “constructing their own knowledge.” The classroom teacher should be a “guide on the side,” instead of a “sage on the stage.” In many American public schools it was now deemed more important for children to “learn how to learn” rather than to accumulate “mere facts” and useless knowledge.

The resurrection of the “child-centered” pedagogy that Mathew Arnold railed against in his own lifetime turned classroom instruction upside down, disrupting the transmission of civic values and traditions from one generation to the next. Noting the old adage about the inmates taking over the asylum, the writer David Solway recently mused that in the era of progressive education it is “the children [who] have taken over the crèche.”

Three decades worth of test surveys conducted by the National Assessment of Education Progress, considered the gold standard of student assessments, and other testing agencies have amply demonstrated one of the consequences of the progressive education revolution—the astonishing ignorance of history and civics by younger and older Americans alike. By the end of the 1990s, two thirds of high school seniors were unable to identify the 50-year period in which the Civil War was fought; half didn’t know in which half century World War I took place. More than half could not name the three branches of government. A majority had no idea what the Gettysburg address was all about. Fifty two percent chose Germany, Japan or Italy as “U.S. allies” in World War II.

Several years ago Newsweek asked a sample of 1000 voters to take the same test that new immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass. One third of the respondents couldn’t name the vice president and half didn’t know that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. Only one third knew that the Constitution is considered the nation’s highest law.

We can’t say we weren’t warned about this looming debacle for the political process. Indeed, the first alarm bells sounded even before the ink was dry on the signatures attached to the first copy of the U.S. Constitution. The story has it that as Benjamin Franklin came out of Convention Hall in Philadelphia he was approached by a woman well known in local society circles. “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” the lady asked. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

The founders feared that a struggle among the former colonies’ competing economic and regional interest groups might undermine the delicate constitutional framework they had just created. To counter the threat of “factionalism,” they established a system of checks and balances. But they also advocated for a national curriculum that would teach future generations the historical knowledge needed to “keep” the new republic. Such a system of schooling was necessary, said Thomas Jefferson, so that “children’s memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, European, Roman, European and American history.” (For Jefferson there was no such thing as “mere facts.”) Constitutional delegate Benjamin Rush from Pennsylvania penned an essay proposing a curriculum for all elementary schools in order to create “republican machines” and maintain the common good.

A half century later, with the union under threat of being torn apart by sectional rivalries, Abraham Lincoln called for the nation’s schools to renew their commitment to a common republican curriculum. In his Lyceum speech, the future president assigned schools the task of teaching children the American credo of “solidarity, freedom, and civic peace above all other principles.” Let these values, Lincoln said, “be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges—let it be written in Primmers [sic], spelling books and almanacs.”

In 1987 the scholar E.D. Hirsch Jr. issued an eloquent prophesy about the consequences of allowing the curriculum to go off the rails. Like Matthew Arnold, Hirsch was a literary critic turned education reformer. His first education book, Cultural Literacy, warned that the abandonment of teaching essential knowledge in the schools would be disastrous for America’s well-being and cultural cohesion. Cultural Literacy became a surprise best-seller that year, appearing on the New York Times list for 26 weeks. One reason for the book’s instant popularity was that it arrived at a perfectly opportune moment. Four years earlier, the Reagan administration had released A Nation at Risk, a widely publicized report documenting the mediocre education that most American children were receiving. The report set off shock waves among parents. Many now saw Hirsch’s call for restoring a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum as a possible answer.

Hirsch put the blame for the meltdown of the schools squarely on the education progressives, including John Dewey. The great philosopher’s mistake, according to Hirsch, was to assume “that early education need not be tied to specific content” and “too hastily reject[ing] the ‘piling up of information.’” This error was particularly tragic for poor and minority children. “By encouraging an early education that is free of `unnatural’ bookish knowledge and of `inappropriate’ pressure to exert hard effort,” Hirsch wrote, progressive education “virtually ensures that children from well-educated homes who happen to be primed with academically relevant background knowledge which they bring with them to school, will learn faster than disadvantaged children who do not bring such knowledge with them and do not receive it at school.”

Amazingly, 1987 produced yet another prophetic and best-selling education book, The Closing of the American Mind by Alan Bloom, a previously unknown University of Chicago professor. Bloom’s book, subtitled “How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students,” exposed the unraveling of academic standards at American universities. Eventually it sold more than a million copies, an astonishing number for a text full of references to philosophers such as Plato and Rousseau.

A million customers didn’t buy The Closing of the American Mind for its insights into Plato. Bloom’s opus went viral on the literary lists because it constituted a passionate J’accuse from inside the academy about the betrayal of the ideals of the American university by cowardly professors and administrators. As Hirsch did for K-12 education, Bloom spotlighted the evisceration of the core curriculum and the subsequent crisis in the humanities. Survey courses in philosophy, literature and American history were disappearing from course catalogues, which meant that young people were now graduating from prestigious universities without any familiarity with, say, the works of Shakespeare, Rousseau or the Founding Fathers. Even the most select students, Bloom wrote, “know so much less, are so much more cut off from the tradition, are so much slacker intellectually that they make their predecessors look like prodigies of culture.”

The appearance of these two widely popular books at the same time led to some hope that the dumbing down of American education might finally be stanched. One promising sign was that Hirsch was able to create the Core Knowledge Foundation, located in Charlottesville Virginia, home of the University of Virginia, where Hirsch was an English professor. The foundation created a knowledge based curriculum that was soon adopted by over one thousand schools (public and charter) around the country. Parents also purchased a series of the foundation’s guides outlining what children should have learned by the end of each grade.

Nevertheless, Hirsch could not have anticipated the level of vitriol directed at him when he crossed the border separating the universities and their ed-school affiliates and dared to criticize the education professors for the wrongheaded training they were providing to K-12 teachers. The ed-school establishment turned on Hirsch as an interloper, branding him a reactionary, an elitist, and a defender of white privilege. (Actually Hirsch was—and still is—a liberal Democrat.)

The official journal of the American Educational Research Association, the professional organization representing the nation’s education professoriate, published an unprecedented 8,000 word diatribe attacking Hirsch’s work, which included this remarkable accusation: “Hirsch minimizes a history of racial and gender bias as factors in differential educational and economic achievement. He dismisses complex theories of social class reproduction, and he demotes the importance of pedagogies that encourage the construction and negotiation of meaning across communities of difference. He insists that teachers and the texts are the proper bearers and students the proper recipients of meaning and refuses to understand the importance of meaning as a negotiated product in a multicultural society.”

Assuming this passage could be translated into standard English, it would actually prove that everything Hirsch had written about the disgrace of the Ed schools was correct.

Bloom’s book on higher education also stimulated some informed debate for a while, including a pushback by alumni shocked by his revelations about the lowering of academic standards. A few brave faculty members fought a rear guard action to preserve universalism, western civilization and high academic standards, but they were soon marginalized and denounced as “racists” and “fascists” by their colleagues, many of whom were veterans of the destructive 1960s radicalism. Bloom too was viciously attacked by an army of offended liberal and leftist professors for his alleged “elitist” and “anti-democratic” ideas. In Harpers the political theorist Benjamin Barber called Bloom a “philosopher despot.”

Through these attacks, the mandarins of progressive education were able to maintain control of the academic content (that is, no academic content) in both the K-12 schools and the universities.

Those of us who thought that American education had finally reached its nadir by the end of the 1990s hadn’t seen anything yet. We had focused our critical attention almost exclusively on the unforced errors committed by teachers, school administrators, and ed-school professors. We weren’t prepared for the coming of the millennials, a generation like no other. We weren’t paying enough attention to the lifestyle changes young people were now experiencing because of the new world of social media and the internet. The baleful effects of this digital-age revolution on young minds was entirely independent of the quality of the formal schooling they were receiving.

The Dumbest Generation, by Emory University English professor Mark Bauerline, brought us up to date with reams of depressing data. Along with the works of Hirsch and Bloom, Bauerline’s 2008 book is essential for understanding the stupid election of 2016. The book’s title is no mere epithet. The Dumbest Generation is a thoroughly researched examination of the intellectual habits and tastes of the millennials, revealing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the country’s education collapse has reached a new and even more dangerous level. According to a host of objective national surveys, these young people have not only been shortchanged of essential cultural literacy in the schools, like previous generations, but they now disdain intellectual curiosity and the culture of books altogether. For this generation there’s no need to read any serious historical and cultural texts, since anything worth knowing can always be Googled. Bauerline makes us see that when the distractions of digital age social media were added to the breakdown of the curriculum in the schools the results— for our society and our democracy—become doubly toxic.

“No cohort in human history has opened such a fissure between its material conditions and its intellectual attainments. None has experienced so many technological enhancements and yielded so little progress,” Bauerline writes. “This is the paradox of the dumbest generation. For the young American, life has never been so yielding, goods so plentiful, schooling so accessible and liberties so copious. The material gains are clear… But it’s a shallow advent. As the survey research shows, knowledge and skills haven’t kept pace, and the intellectual habits that complement them are slipping… The mental equipment of the young falls short of their media, money, e-gadgets, and career plans.”

Even the objective surveys cited by Bauerline can’t quite capture the everyday reality of this fracture. Something more personal and up close with the millennials is needed. So consider this observation by David Gelernter, a prominent professor of computer sciences at Yale University:

“I’m lucky to be at one of the best colleges in the world. Our students are as smart as any in the world. They work very hard to get here… My students today are much less obnoxious, much more likable than I and my friends used to be, but they are so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are. You tell yourself stories; it’s very hard to grasp that the person you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, advisable, interested, and doesn’t know who Beethoven is. Had no view looking back at the history of the 20th century—just sees a fog, a blank. Has the vaguest idea of who Winston Churchill was or why he mattered. And maybe has no image of Teddy Roosevelt… . They know nothing about art. They know nothing about history. They know nothing about philosophy.”

Is it any wonder that the millennials described by Professors Bauerline and Gelernter overwhelmingly supported a 74-year-old self-proclaimed socialistwho got them to believe that making a new American revolution with goodies for all would be as easy as pie?

The chickens have now come home to roost from the progressives’ half—century assault on teaching knowledge and academic content in the classroom. The obliteration of the past, the rejection of the hallowed American idea that there exist “self-evident truths,” has inevitably left us with a presidential election as a fact-free zone and a voting public less knowledgeable than ever. This is a tragedy for the country. It will soon turn out to be particularly concerning for America’s conservative movement—what’s left of it after this horrific campaign.

I have admired the “NeverTrump” conservatives and neoconservatives bravely calling out Donald Trump and his minions for their lies, cynicism and betrayal of American values. In a very dark time, I have found some consolation in being able to praise writers such as John Podhoretz, William Kristol, Kevin Williamson, George Will, Bret Stephens and many others—plus the conservative magazines Commentary, the Weekly Standard and National Review—for continuing to tell the brutal truth about the Trump campaign’s underlying barbarism and anti-Americanism.

Nevertheless, I would fault the NeverTrump conservatives in one area. It is that they haven’t yet fully explored how much this year’s political debacle has been influenced by the meltdown of American schooling. They must know that a true American conservatism can only be sustained with citizens and voters who understand our past and appreciate the historic traditions of the republic. And those habits of mind can only be taught in the schools through a planned curriculum.

It’s understandable that these conservatives would have qualms about suggesting that those voting for the wrong candidate are dumb—which can then be seen as intellectual snobbery. There has also been an unpleasant tradition in western thought, exemplified by Nietzche and his American epigone H.L. Mencken, which has used the alleged stupidity of the masses as an excuse for abandoning democracy altogether.

While being aware of that danger, there is still no escaping the connection between lowering a democratic society’s intellectual standards and lowering the expectations for those vying for its leadership. Our founding fathers understood this connection. Matthew Arnold understood it all too well. He knew that without immersing future generations in “the best that has been said and thought” many will be tempted to choose leaders who represent the worst that has been said and thought.

NYC Teacher Contract Ratified!! The Hard Work Begins, Can the Union and the Mayor Create a Model for Urban Education? or, Is the Contract a Charade?

With over 90,000 union members voting the UFT contracts passed with 77% of the vote.

The applause and back-slapping should be brief.

Polices hatched at the US Department of Education and think tanks have guided educational policy for the Bush and Obama administrations. The bi-partisan No Child Left Behind legislation requires annual high stakes testing and the Race to the Top exchanges dollars for commitments to teacher evaluation, expansion of charter schools, the Common Core, rigorous testing and harsh interventions. We have moved from the constitutional principle, education is reserved to the states (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States …”) to what amounts to a national education policy.

In cities public education is in jeopardy, New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia and Kansas City are moving towards charter school systems. Los Angeles is dysfunctional; in Chicago teachers are at war with their mayor and the school system faces severe deficits.

Teacher labor contracts routinely contain some iteration of pay-for-performance with reductions in tenure rights for teachers.

The New York City teacher contract is the exception – it includes a range of new initiatives to address lingering issues:

* a differentiated staffing plan whereby teachers can move into training positions for additional remuneration.
* a higher pay scale for teachers in “hard-to-staff” schools
* a pathway to the classroom for teachers who have been excessed from closing or over-staffed schools
* the recruitment of up to 200 schools that can modify the union contract to fit the needs of the school.
* expedited procedures for dismissal of teachers accused of serious misconduct.

Sol Stern, a longtime critic-commenter on education, sneers.

But what’s most striking about the “historic” deal is how much it remains the same old, same old. Is this really the best the city can do for students?

Like its predecessor agreements, the new contract undermines excellence in the schools — and thus strengthens the reformers’ critique of resistant-to-change urban public school systems.

200 pages full of mind-numbing bureaucratic restrictions…

It also retains all of the irrational and counterproductive provisions regarding teacher compensation and work schedules. It’s amazing that a so-called labor agreement still gives no clue about how the city — i.e. management — might monitor employee productivity…

The elaborate salary schedule for teachers remains arbitrary, fiscally wasteful and unrelated to the city’s presumed goal of providing children with the most talented and knowledgeable classroom instructors…

De Blasio and Mulgrew tried to put lipstick on this pig by trumpeting a few fancy sounding new initiatives, like the new Ambassador, Model and Master teacher roles — which mostly duplicate the existing role of lead teacher while giving it new titles that sound as if they came from a credit-card company’s marketing wing.

Stern admires Albert Shanker, the former leader of the UFT – sometimes remembered for leading strikes, (see Woody Allen clip from “Sleepers,” and has no confidence in the new school system leadership.

Shanker was an education intellectual who rejected progressive education fads. He supported high academic standards and a coherent, grade-by-grade, content-knowledge curriculum…

… Chancellor Carmen Fariña has already signaled that, despite the lack of evidence supporting their efficacy, the constructivist reading and writing programs her friend Calkins developed will soon be returning to the city’s classrooms.

And the UFT under Mulgrew is not likely to care about what its members teach in the classrooms, as long as the distorted pay scales in the contract are honored.

The highest aspiration of Mayor de Blasio’s political progressivism is to narrow the gaps between the city’s rich and poor. The most salient fact of the educational progressivism favored by Fariña and Calkins is that it has never been able to narrow the academic achievement gaps between children from poor families and those from the middle class.

Someday this contradiction in progressivism will become self-evident. But by then lots more of the city’s poor children will have been left behind.

Former Chancellor Harold Levy disagrees with Stern,

Sol Stern’s critique of the new teachers’ contract (“Failing to learn,” Op-Ed, June 1) undervalues the importance of the changes achieved. It is just unrealistic to think that a single contract will wipe away all of the constraints on management that mayors and chancellors have conceded to union leaders over the years. Change is necessarily incremental.

Most important, in this agreement the City established the proposition that schools can write their own rules – if they get 65% buy-in of their teachers. This is precisely the way to build collegial decision-making, encourage reflective practice and elevate the professionalism of the teaching force. Closer tracking using accountability metrics is losing support among reformers because there’s little evidence that it works. Our real problem in the public schools is that teachers feel disrespected; as a result over 50% leave the profession by their fifth year of teaching. Until some of the changes made by the new contract, we have not even had an effective way to acknowledge the superior competence of truly master teachers.

The sad truth is that with the exception of the Teaching Fellows program, we are still hiring new teachers from the bottom quartile of college graduating classes. That means we are filling a leaky bucket with poorly qualified new recruits … The city’s goal should be to fix the high teacher churn rate and address its inability to hire the brightest college grads, by making teaching more desirable and the profession more respected. We also need a longer school day, shorter summer breaks and more cutting-edge education technology. And all that costs money. Until we make those commitments, however, we are just dealing with footnotes.

The curmudgeonly Stern is a “glass half-empty” guy … he has seen educational fad after fad imposed on teachers and children and one can understand his views; the current contract is just a way to fiddle around the edges and collect dollars for teachers.

The union and the Mayor may have bought four years of labor peace – and four years down the road the Common Core may be gathering dust on a back shelf, and maybe de Blasio’s progressive platform will have successfully addressed the lack of affordable housing, pay inequality, housing and school segregation, and on and on. The contract did buy an ally – the teachers union and its membership will always be keys in any election.

On the other hand if the “innovative” sections of the contract are a charade, if Sol is correct, a mayoral candidate on the right can trash de Blasio and the contract and make the mayor the first one-term mayor since David Dinkins.

The union has a daunting task – to move teachers from passive players – nodding at each edict from on high, doing the best they can in the classroom, to active players, participating in writing curriculum, working closely with colleagues, in essence moving from renters to owners.

The Bloomberg-Klein crowd, for whom Sol has no love created over 200 gifted schools and programs, schools in which principals selected their own students, a two-tier school system. Schools with kids from “better zip codes” flourished while schools in high poverty zip codes were closed. What is so distressing, actually criminal, is the Bloomberg crowd simply ignored what goes on in classrooms – they never asked a simple question: what curriculum works?

The job of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning was eliminated.

Chancellor Farina has resuscitated the position and selected an experienced, highly regarded principal – hopefully to begin turning the ocean liner, the massive million pupil school system in a different direction.

Stern (“The Redemption of E. D. Hirsch” is an avid supporter of E. D; Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum – a content-rich approach to teaching, and, I would not be surprised if Stern and Mulgrew are on the same page!

Moving the debate from charter schools and teacher evaluation to “balanced literacy” versus Core Knowledge is at least changing the dialogue.

If the contract is a trompe d’oeil, an illusion, the Megatron reformer will sweep across the landscape.

I’m a glass half full type of guy – a combination of progressive policies to address poverty, i. e., community schools, combined with reinvigorating teachers and the schools can make a difference.

Can de Blasio turn around the Tea Party, conservative attacks on progressive policies? Is de Blasio really Optimus Prime?

The next four years may set a new national path for urban education, or, the question: which path?

Does deBlasio Need to Rekindle the Reading Wars? Lucy Calkins Re-Ignites the “Whole Language” versus “Phonics” Battles.

As the seemingly endless mayoral campaign plodded from panel to panel it became increasingly clear that candidate de Blasio, on education issues, was the furthermost to the left: he vigorously opposed co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings, he was cool to the idea of charter schools generally, he was openly critical of Eva Moskowitz, while the other candidates didn’t disagree, they were just more “thoughtful” and less didactic.

Four months into his term de Blasio has been battered: his plan for a small tax on earners of over $500,000 a year shot down by the governor and a five million dollar media blitz and $800,000 in contributions to Cuomo resulted in legislation to force co-locations of charter schools – a resounding defeat for the new guy on the block, a defeat engineered by his “friend” in the governor’s Albany mansion.

For the mayor the single issue is Universal Pre-Kindergarten, an immense program with many pitfalls to be averted. Can the department find adequate classroom space? Can the department match seats to needs? Can the department find and train appropriately certified teachers? Can the department stock the classrooms with age-appropriate materials? Can the department and the city link a wide range of social and health services to the kids? A Herculean task and a task that must shine to restore the glitter to the mayor’s image.

Other major initiatives are on hold: the reorganization of the network-based management system, the A-F School Progress Reports, the Choice versus Neighborhood Schools concept, the single goal is to assure that Universal Pre-Kindergarten will be a smashing success.

And then Chancellor Farina announced Lucy was back.

For decades the battle over the teaching of reading, aka, The Reading Wars, have pitted supporters of “whole language” against the supporters of “phonics,” Research Professor Peter Gray in “Freedom to Learn” describes the differing positions,

In teaching reading, the progressive [whole language] educator might focus on ways to help beginners recognize and thereby read whole words from the outset and allow them to figure out or guess at other words from the context (such as from pictures and the meaning of adjacent words), so they are reading for meaning right from the beginning. In contrast, the traditionalist might start with lessons on letter recognition and the relation of letters to sounds (phonics) before moving on to whole words and sentences. The process of reading requires the decoding of letters into sounds, and the traditionalist teaches this process explicitly before becoming concerned with meaning.

Today, the majority (though not all) of the experts who have examined the data have declared that the wars are over—phonics has won. The data seem clear. Overall, children who are taught phonics from the beginning become better readers, sooner, than those who are taught by whole-word or whole-language methods. The learning is still slow and tedious, but not as slow and tedious for phonics learners as for those taught by other methods.

Kathleen Porter-McGee, a widely respected scholar and frequent writer about the teaching of reading also pans the Calkins’ methodology,

Not only is this approach [Lucy Catkins’ Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop] widely used by U.S. educators (for ages it was required by the New York City Department of Education and is still widely used today in Gotham schools), but it is perhaps the most egregious example of a content-free, text-neutral, skills-focused version of reading instruction. Students in such classrooms don’t even have the benefit of reading shared or thoughtfully sequenced texts, let alone a thoughtful, coherent knowledge base.

Joel Klein, an attorney, hired Diana Lamm as his deputy under the initial department reorganization, with ten mega-regional superintendents, Lamm imposed the whole language teaching strategy, after Lamm left Klein promoted Carmen Farina, also a devotee of whole language instruction. Over the years Lucy Calkins trained over 10,000 New York Teachers and her Writing Project received millions of dollars in contracts.

The Reading Wars raged with Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute and Diane Ravitch pitted against Calkins and Farina. A lengthy piece in New York Magazine recounts the battle,

Sol Stern of the conservative Manhattan Institute and the education historian Diane Ravitch berated Balanced Literacy’s whole-language roots. “Many of the programs and methods now being crammed down the teachers’ throats have no record of success,” wrote Stern, “and are particularly ill suited for disadvantaged minority children. In fact, a cabal of progressive educators chose them for ideological reasons, in total disregard of what the scientific evidence says about the most effective teaching methods—particularly in the critically important area of early reading.”

By the spring of 2004, Diana Lam was gone, but Joel Klein went out of his way to defend Balanced Literacy. He promoted Carmen Fariña, a respected Brooklyn superintendent who had used Balanced Literacy as a teacher and principal. Fariña proudly took up the cause.

After Farina left in one of the many leadership shifts Eric Nadelstern took the education helm and the system moved to an affinity network model. Schools could choose their network; “Calkins” schools could cluster in a network, devotees of phonics or other approaches in other networks. With adoption of the Common Core the department recommended methodologies and Calkins was not selected.

With the selection of Farina as chancellor could the resurrection of Calkins be far behind?

Patrick Wall, in Chalkbeat recounts Lucy’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes,

… in January, Calkins’ longtime friend Carmen Fariña, who has called Calkins her mentor, was appointed head of the city school system. The two met privately at the Department of Education headquarters after Fariña became schools chancellor.

Around that time, Calkins wrote to Fariña urging her to resist the curriculum guidelines written by Coleman and his team, Calkins said in her speech.

“Please, Carmen,” Calkins said she appealed to Fariña, “Protect the Common Core from the documents surrounding it, that are people’s interpretations of it.”

Now, Fariña has the power to reimagine the way educators across the city teach reading and writing in the age of the Common Core. Already, the chancellor has promised a top-to-bottom review of the city’s recommended curriculums. And to lead a citywide Common Core literacy training next month, her administration brought in Calkins’ group.

For her part, Calkins seems confident that her group will play a larger role under Chancellor Fariña in helping schools meet the new standards.

“Yes, the city’s moving in our direction,” Calkins said during an interview in February. “Obviously.”

The Reading War has roots in the 1950’s (“Why Johnnie Can’t Read”) and the skirmishes have continued ever since. In spite the reams of critical research whole language instruction continues to stake out a loyal and dedicated following, and an equally vociferous opposition.

As de Blasio struggles to regain his positive public image, as the mayor pumps up support for Universal Pre- Kindergarten, as the laser-like focus of the administration on making sure that pre-kindergarten is a glowing success, does de Blasio need to fan the embers of the Reading Wars?

Fanned embers end up in conflagrations, to raging forest fires, a disaster for an administration looking to find their mojo.

The mayor needs victories, not scrums over how to teach reading.

A Virtual Look at Contract Negotiations: A Long Spring for the Negotiators on Both Sides.

Contract negotiations are multi-faceted and complex.

Different teams sitting in different rooms mulling over printouts, offers and counteroffers; distressing amounts of time is spent caucusing with your team plotting/creating responses, crafting arguments supporting positions and waiting, waiting, waiting for a response/counter offer from the other side. The process is laborious and incremental, with many trips down the wrong path, with frequent dead ends.

As the sides close in on a settlement the negotiations tend to become round-the-clock, pushing for that last comma and semi colon in the right place.

Years ago I served on the negotiating team – the final, lengthy session, the presentation to the union executive board, the delegate assembly … I think we went fifty-four straight hours.

Under the previous administration negotiations never began, our former mayor chose leaks to the press and unkind op eds in lieu of actual negotiations.

In the “money” room the sides have to decide on the numbers – what would each percentage point cost in each year? How much would each percent from 11/1/09 until 6/30/10, and each subsequent budget cycle (7/1 till 6/30) cost out? Is the time pensionable, and, if so, how much would this add to the cost? Remember: the city contributes a rate determined by actuarial calculations each year; if teachers retired between 11/1/09 and the date of the new contract are they entitled to retro pay and a recalculation of their pension? If the answer is “yes,” how much would it add to the dollar cost of the agreement?

Before you can reach a resolution you have to agree to price tag of each negotiated segment.

The union numbers people parse past city budgets, current budget proposals, revenue and expense projections, tax receipt projections and on and on … How many new buildings are in the pipeline and how much in taxes will they generate? Can we anticipate increasing tourism and place a price tag on the anticipated additional revenue?

In another room the health plan negotiators representing the Municipal Labor Coalition (MLC) are engaged in the enormously complex discussions. It is a three-way discussion: the city, the union and the feds. How does the Affordable Care Act impact health plans for NYC active and retired employees? Are current active and retired employee health plans “Cadillac” plans, and, if so, are elements of the plan taxable?

How will retroactive salary be paid out? All at once? Over two or three budget cycles?

In another room the “non-budgetary” issues are on the table.

Management is wary about relinquishing managerial prerogatives; unions defend what has been previously embedded in the contract.

Once the parties have an agreement the union has to “sell” the settlement to the membership and the mayor has to “sell” the settlement to the media/the elites and the broader public.

Will the headline praise or pan the settlement?

Teachers have told me, “Who cares what the settlement costs, that’s not a concern of the union, the city will just have to figure it out, we’re entitled to a raise, we earned it, and the city just has to pay it?

My answer is: Wisconsin.

Scott Walker, the Governor is Wisconsin, and a cooperative legislature, effectively ended collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Public employee unions in Wisconsin are beyond life support – they are moribund.

Read the frightening story: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/business/wisconsins-legacy-for-unions.html?hpw&rref=business

Some of you may have gone to Wisconsin to support our brothers and sisters, participated in recall elections for state senators who voted on “the wrong side,” all to no avail. The public was not sympathetic to the unions, and, Scott Walker is now mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

The “unofficial” voters on any contract settlement are the people of the City of New York.

The teachers union has spent years working with communities across the city: parents, civic associations, and other unions, block associations, electeds on the local level, faith-based leaders, in the parlance of labor, an “organizing model.” Thousands upon thousands of union members participating in local campaigns, from volunteering to spending time in Louisiana after Katrina, to working right here in New York City on Hurricane Sandy relief, from going to Haiti to work on field hospitals to trekking with parents to fight for a stop light on a corner or to prevent a school from closing or to fight against co-locating a charter school in a public school building.

The work of the union has paid off, Sol Stern in the Manhattan Journal (Special Issue, 2013) wrote,

according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics … 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.

The public is fickle, to continue the support of the populace union leadership has to craft a contract that is viewed by the public as fair to teachers and fair to the city.

Mayor de Blasio’s State of the City speech addressed affordable housing,

“In total, we pledge to preserve or construct nearly 200,000 units of affordable housing – enough to house between 400,000 and 500,000 New Yorkers — to help working people by literally putting a roof over their heads” … Mr. Bloomberg invested heavily in affordable housing, but Mr. de Blasio won office promising to do more. He has said he would require major residential projects to include units for low- and moderate-income residents. He has also said he would invest $1 billion of city pension funds in creating lower-rent units.

Decisions on the investment of pension funds are controlled by the trustees of the funds and require the approval of the union-appointed trustees who have a legal fiduciary responsibility. While there is no connection whatsoever between the contract negotiations and the pension fund trustees the enthusiastic support of the investment by the union could resonate well with New Yorkers.

In 1975 as the city was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy Al Shanker supported a plan in which the Teacher Retirement System purchased city bonds to avert default, a default that could have freed the city of all contractual responsibility, a la Detroit today.

In one room a team is discussing the teacher evaluation plan.

The elements of the plan are set in law and regulation and a final plan must be approved by the state commissioner. The current New York City plan is a mess – the plan was written by the commissioner and basically is much too complex. Both management and labor want to simplify the plan; however, the plan must be approved in Albany.

Yes, complex with many, many moving parts.

At the same time the negotiators are engaged the city budget plans are moving forward. The mayor’s proposed budget is silent on dollars for collective bargaining. The City Council will hold hearings, the fifty-one council members will argue for projects for their districts, Community Planning Boards will support or oppose budget initiatives and in the waning days of June a budget will be agreed upon.

The unions and the mayor want to reach an agreement – there are no guarantees – the economy impacts negotiations – so – don’t spend that retroactive salary just yet.

“Room for Debate,” What are the New York City Education Challenges?

The New York Times invites debaters to comment on a timely issue in the “Room for Debate” blog. This week the topic is “New York City’s Public Education Challenges,” the debaters, Diane Ravitch, Geoffrey Canada, Pedro Noguera and Sol Stern.

The Times frames the debate,

The next mayor of New York City faces some tough challenges particularly when it comes to setting public education priorities. Should he or she abandon Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s fixation on testing and data-driven accountability, or expand school choice and close failing classrooms to give more options to families, especially English-language learners and those in low-income communities?

Diane Ravitch is an amazing woman – she has single handedly grasped the power of social media, she blogs ten times a day and tweets fifty times a day as well as speaking publicly around the nation, and, she had the time to write, “The Reign of Error,” publication date is September 17th. (She said she woke up at 4:30 every morning to write). She is the leader of the intellectual community opposing the (de)former vision of education. Arne Duncan must shiver at the mention of her name!

The subtitle of her book, “The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” is not angry scrry, it an evidence-based examination of the (de)reform agenda using US Department of Education data to skewer faulty claims (I will write a review at the publication date).

Diane’s response is straightforward,

The new mayor needs to abandon the cramped vision of the past decade. Testing, choice and accountability are a strategy to close schools and privatize them. Testing has become the be-all and end-all of schooling. Too much testing crushes creativity and imagination and obliterates the joy of learning. Tests should be used diagnostically, to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward teachers and close schools.

The new mayor should ask, “How can I make sure that there is a good public school in every neighborhood? What can I do to make sure that all children have access to the kind of education I would want for my own child?”

Geoffrey Canada is the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the much-touted charter school network. Canada also serves on the Cuomo Commission on Education Reform. The richly funded HCZ is praised all over the nation; the cradle-to-college pipeline has become a model for charter management organizations, the problem: HCZ replicable, it has extremely deep pocketed supporters, with questionable results. Helen Zelon, in City Limits, wrote an in-depth analysis of HCZ and points to a range of mediocre achievement (see Report here).

Canada has been a vigorous supporter of the Bloomberg policies, and argues,

Mayoral control means the next mayor has to continue to take full and unambiguous responsibility for how the city’s schools are working, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done. We need to strengthen our evaluation tools and isolate what’s moving the needle for our kids.

In advocating actions to improve our schools, the next mayor must not be afraid of the reaction from the public or vested interests, in particular in regard to controversial measures such as closing failing schools, continuing to support charter schools and the meaningful evaluation of teachers.

Pedro Noguera, is the Peter L. Agnew professor of education at New York University and the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education.

Pedro begins his essay with praise for the Bloomberg administration,

Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves credit for providing leadership that has led to significant improvement in New York’s public schools. Graduation rates have risen, there are more good schools available for New York parents to choose from, and there is a greater sense of accountability present in schools throughout the city.

And goes on to point to the “elephant in the room,” poverty.

First, as poverty rates have risen during the Bloomberg years, schools in New York’s poorest communities have been overwhelmed by a variety of social and economic issues that affect child development and limit school performance. Mayoral control never led to greater coordination among city departments so that social services could be provided to children and families in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The next mayor will need to coordinate city services — health, recreation, safety, child welfare — and work more closely with nonprofits, hospitals, universities and other institutions to develop systems of support for schools.

Noguera goes on to question the role of the department,

The Department of Education will need to do more than merely judge schools. It must also help schools to improve. Closing schools should be treated as a last resort — not the primary strategy used to deal with struggling schools.

A core question that has been acknowledged and not addressed are English language learners, 41% of children in the NYC schools live in households in which English is not the primary language.

Finally, in a city where over half the children come from homes where English is not spoken, shockingly little has been done to provide support to schools to meet the needs of English-language learners

Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and a frequent writer at the Institute’s City Journal, has written on education for decades. Sol has just written an “Advise to the Next Mayor“as well as questioning whether the department truly understands the Common Core.

Sol points to the issue that could very well sidetrack the implementation of the Common Core, the convoluted, impenetrable teacher evaluation plan,

The biggest education challenge our next mayor faces is the flawed teacher evaluation system that has been imposed on the schools by the Bloomberg administration. This so-called accountability reform is demoralizing for teachers and bad for children.

Bloomberg’s “accountability reform” is demoralizing for teachers and bad for children.
The current metric for evaluating teacher quality is based on a complicated algorithm that ranks each teacher based on growth (or “added value”) in his or her students’ test scores, adjusted for students’ socioeconomic status. The problem is that leading testing experts have raised serious questions about the reliability of the value-added methodology. Education researchers who still support the evaluations concede they are unstable and there is a substantial margin of error.

Moreover, test-based rankings for teachers will surely undermine the promising Common Core curriculum changes now being implemented in the schools. Under the Common Core, schools must broaden the curriculum to include “history/social studies science, and other disciplines.” … Under the current accountability system teachers tend to narrow the curriculum.

Therefore the next mayor should suspend the test-based teacher rankings in order to focus the education department’s full attention on successful implementation of the Common Core and new classroom curricula.

Three of the four debaters are sharply critical of the current administration and the fourth, an acolyte of the mayor, praises him and calls for more of the same.

Whomever ends up in Gracie Mansion could do worse than sitting down with Diane, Pedro and Sol, they probably are among the deepest thinkers delving into the direction of the school system, and, have no axe to grind. None are seeking jobs; none owe anything to anyone.

While including the so-called stakeholders, parents and teachers and principal, is crucial, listening to wisdom is vital.

The issues at the mayoral debates: pre-K, co-location of charter schools, network versus geographic districts, etc., while important, the debaters point the system in the right direction: Bill or Bill or Christine, take a deep breathe, and sit down with Diane, Pedro and Sol.

Cuomo’s Education “Death Penalty” Ideas May Derail His Presidential Ambitions: Fixing Schools Means Fixing Cities.

“Fixing education” has become a political black hole.

The Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind law of 2002, hailed as the savior of public education is in shreds. The Obama-Duncan (de)forms are under attack from coast to coast – the recent Gallup Poll pours ice water on federal initiatives. As the Bloomberg era closes out the public gives him high marks – except for schools – a Zogby Poll reports the public trusts teachers more than the mayor (See Sol Stern here),

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.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal planned to replace public education with a total choice program with vouchers provided to parents. The court found his plan unconstitutional and his approval ratings have plummeted, what once looked like a potential 2016 presidential run is derailed.

Governor Bush fired his newly hired state commissioner who cheated to make charter schools look better in Indiana – before the voters threw him out.

It is surprising that the strategic governor of New York State seems to be venturing down the same path. Governor Cuomo is extremely cautious, he rarely meets with the press except under totally controlled atmospheres. He never releases his daily schedule except for orchestrated appearances. He swept aside pressures to end layoffs by seniority and gained teacher union support for a teacher evaluation system. He garnered legislative support for a new Tier 6 of the state pension system by supporting a range of legislature supported programs. He effectively arm twisted the marriage equality law and in spite of vigorous opposition from the state teacher union (NYSUT) passed a 2% property tax cap that has effectively sidetracked negotiated salary increases for teachers around the state, not in New York City which does not fall under the 2% cap.

The usually cautious governor seems to be wandering down the same path that has sullied the reputation of the president, governors and mayors across the nation.

Governor Cuomo, in an upstate speech, threatened the “death penalty” for upstate and Long Island low achieving schools.

Speaking to reporters in Lockport, Niagara County, Cuomo said Thursday he plans to craft a plan for dealing with “failing schools” when lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January.

“My position is going to be, we’ll give (the schools) a short window to repair themselves, and then something dramatically has to happen,” Cuomo said late Thursday. “Because we can’t allow these failing schools to continue.”
The Democratic governor laid out a number of possibilities for dealing with underperforming schools, including potentially allowing the state, a local mayor or a charter school to take over. Any of those moves would require approval by state lawmakers.

“There’s going to have to be a death penalty for failing schools, so to speak,” Cuomo said.
(Watch the Cuomo statement here)

The just-released scores on the latest Common Core-based state exams place Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and a few other school districts 20+% below the state proficiency rates – according the state tests staggering numbers in poor, urban, upstate districts “failed” the test.

• In Buffalo, 11.5% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Yonkers, 16.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 14.5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In New York City, 26.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 29.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Rochester, 5.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Syracuse, 8.7% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 6.9% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

While the governor is flailing schools he conveniently forgets about the economies in the same cities.

In spite of three years of gubernatorial announcements about economic development in the faltering upstate cities unemployment remains high and the future bleak.

The once booming economies in Rochester and across the northern tier are long gone, and will never return. The promised high tech jobs, if they are created, will not benefit the inner city youth in the hollowed out cities across the state, a situation replicated across the nation.

If you superimpose poverty by zip code, unemployment, poor health, crime, teenage pregnancy, and school achievement, lo and behold, the maps are congruent (See Poverty by zip code here)). From Los Angeles to Phoenix to Denver to Houston to East St Louis to Chicago to Detroit to Philadelphia to New York to Buffalo to Rochester and Syracuse the pattern is the same.

The “standard solution” forced by the feds, closing and reopening schools, charter schools, turnaround or transformation, has churned not resolved the problem of low school achievement.

The “plan,” the successes, and there are success, are plans that are research-based, crafted locally, carefully monitored by the city/state and coupled with a community-wide approach, not just based on school restructuring.

Strong district and school leadership, quality instruction, content rich curriculum, a collaborative partnership, over time, will improve outcomes.

The governor has to do his part: jobs, health care, housing must go hand-in-hand with school improvement plans.

The “takeover” of a school district is not new in New York State; in 2002 the State Education Department received legislative approval to “takeover” the Roosevelt School District, a 2010 Report found “modest gains,” unfortunately very modest. In June, 2012 the commissioner recommended continuing the state takeover due to a lack of gains in pupil achievement (See State Report here)

The governor threatens to support legislation to give the State Education Department the authority to “takeover” school districts, yet eleven years after taking over Roosevelt the district still stumbles academically.

The commissioner is also currently battling the Buffalo School Board and superintendent, threatening to revoke the registration of the schools as well as “suspending or terminating” School Improvement Grant (SIG) dollars. (See King letter here)

The recent history of governor’s taking over school districts has not been positive – the heralded creation of a governor’s district in Connecticut – the taking over of low performing schools and school districts (See glossy description here) has fallen on hard times in Bridgeport. An excellent Washington Post article dissects the failed premises of the “sprinter” turnaround experts – a superb read here.

The governor’s flippant “death penalty” threat can easily come back to haunt him. Has the unemployment rate fallen in Buffalo, or Rochester or Syracuse? Have grandiose plans and pronouncements in State of the State messages come to fruition?

Communities are organic and schools are part of the organism – you cannot separate the school from the community – you must “cure” the ills of the community. Yes, strong district and school leadership, an engaged staff, a jointly-arrived at plan along with the creation of jobs can resuscitate a city.

To expect that schools will thrive without considering the zip code is illusory.

To expect that the state education departments have a magic wands and fairy dust is ludicrous. Why is Roosevelt, after eleven years, still under state management?

Maybe the governor’s inner circle should take a look at his counterparts in Indiana and Florida and Wisconsin and Louisiana…. quick fix efforts have dragged down careers.

Gavin Newsom, the Lt Governor of California, in October, 2012 laid out the challenges of cities in a time of fiscal austerity; thirty to fifty cities across the nation may be on the road to bankruptcy, Newsom offers some possible paths in a speech at the Milano Institute at the New School University (Worthwhile listening to here).

Andrew’s road to the White House might be derailed in Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse.

“We’re Better Than Buffalo,” The State Test Debacle: Who Are the Losers and Winners?

Ultimately, no one will be pleased by a measure that is expected to show fewer than 30 percent of students are on track for success after high school. Shael Suransky, NYC Chief Academic Officer

The headlines blare, “State Test Scores Plummet,” and the policy makers scatter for cover; for some an opportunity to further their ambitions, for others a disaster and, for too many, sadness, despair and fear.

Are the scores proof that the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott years were a failure and a charade? or,

Are we finally on the right track – raising the bar for all students?

Cyberspace will be filled with punditry: gleefully using the scores to support some argument or other or solemnly using the scores to support another argument.

The Bloomberg/Walcott versus Mulgrew wars continue – a detailed analysis sent to the media by the union, Walcott calls it “despicable.”

We are a month away from city-wide primary elections.

As the scores are released who are the losers and winners?

The Losers:

* Student, Families, Teachers and Principals

On Monday “embargoed” scores were posted online for principals. A principal of a school filled with high poverty kids was succeeding, an “A” school, 40% of the kids were “proficient” and the percentage was edging up every year. This year, she recounted, everyone was working especially hard – the new Common Core – curriculum changes – tentative guidance from above- and only 25% of the kids “proficient” on the new test.

“I’m worried that we’ll end up on some ‘bad school’ list, mostly I worry about the students and teachers – they worked so hard and have so little to show for it.”

The psychological impact on kids is hard to quantify, how can you tell kids not to worry, that it wasn’t their fault when the kids say, “You never taught me how to do that problem,” how do you respond?

* Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott

I actually think in the early days the Mayor believed Klein’s public relations machine pumping out one “success” after another. The “successes” were, for the most part, a trompe d’oeille, a carefully etched counterfeit. Credit Recovery jacked up graduation rates by a few points, the constant school closings, an example of “addition by subtraction” with at risk kids concentrated in fewer and fewer schools, charter schools scooping up kids and families with high social capital, and pushing aside kids with disabilities and English language learners, a carefully plotted gambit.

The last few years have been a disaster for a legacy-engaged Mayor. In a Zogby Poll the public trusts the teacher union more than the Mayor on educational issues, Sol Stern in City Journal writes,

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.

* Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch:

Kentucky was the first state to use Common Core items and scores dropped 30%. Perhaps it was hubris, perhaps political pressures from “across the street (the Governor’s Office), the Commissioner and the Chancellor rebuffed every effort to postpone the impact of the scores – to use a golf term, they refused to give the State a “mulligan.” The moratorium idea began in a widely covered speech by AFT President Randi Weingarten, gained traction, Education Secretary Duncan quietly said he would not stand in the way – New York State stood firm, no dice, and no postponement. At the July Regents meeting Regent Harry Phillips, a longtime member of the Regents, made a motion to delay for one year the impact of the State tests – Regent Tallon vigorously opposed the motion – Regents Cashin and Rosa spoke in favor and the motion died as the remainder of the Board said nothing.

The Commissioner asked superintendents to be “judicious” in the use of the scores – whatever that means.

The State made every effort to prepare superintendents, principals, teachers and kids for the far more complex test items. High wealth districts pumped in the dollars, low wealth districts are simply struggling to survive, and, in New York City, the readiness swings widely from school to school, with State Ed abdicating any responsibility for the city.

The Commissioner and the Chancellor fumbled an opportunity to gain widespread support across the state.

The winners:

* The Mayoral Candidates.

The candidates will use the test scores as an opportunity to bash the current administration – “As Mayor I will work closely with parents and teachers, I will oppose high stakes testing, I will select an experienced educator as chancellor, I will identify funds to do this and that and the other thing.” The candidates are both running against Bloomberg and being careful not to alienate the current Mayor too much – a tightrope. While the citizenry does not support the Mayor’s education policies most praise him for reducing crime and as a good fiscal custodian.

* The Teacher Union:

The union has been consistently declaring that schools were not adequately prepared for the new Common Core tests. With a Cheshire cat smile they can say, “We told you so.”

I suspect the union will not gloat, well, maybe a little – I suspect that they will do a careful parsing of the test, especially since many of the test items will be released in the coming weeks.

On September 10th Democratic voters will chose from among the pretenders – it appears that Quinn, Thompson and De Blasio will be battling for the two runoff spots on October 1.

The bickering, the recriminations, the warfare has to abate, the school system needs a mayor who can select a chancellor who can get everyone on board – you cannot drag a school system or a state, kicking and screaming, to higher standards.

The beatings will continue until morale improves is not a good slogan.